“The Narrative,” Neoliberalism, and Identity Politics

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

I should start by saying that the headline isn’t exactly clickbait, because who writes clickbait on Boxing Day anyhow, but it does oversell what I’m about to write, which is not a Grand Unified Theory mutually contextualizing all three topics — perhaps another time — but a consideration of each topic, in linear order. That is, first I’ll consider “The Narrative,” then I’ll consider the neo-liberal dispensation that has ordered the governance of the country since the mid-70s, and lastly I’ll ask if identity politics can provide an account of neo-liberalism, and if so, what sort.

“The Narrative”

I know I linked to this already this morning, but I’ve been turning it over in my mind as a jumping off point (and in any case, I forgot to say, as I should have said: “Please distribute widely”!) From “Stunned By Trump, The New York Times Finds Time For Some Soul-Searching,” in the Hollywood Reporter:

For starters, it’s important to accept that the New York Times has always — or at least for many decades — been a far more editor-driven, and self-conscious, publication than many of those with which it competes. Historically, the Los Angeles Times, where I worked twice, for instance, was a reporter-driven, bottom-up newspaper. Most editors wanted to know, every day, before the first morning meeting: “What are you hearing? What have you got?”

It was a shock on arriving at the New York Times in 2004, as the paper’s movie editor, to realize that its editorial dynamic was essentially the reverse. By and large, talented reporters scrambled to match stories with what internally was often called “the narrative.” We were occasionally asked to map a narrative for our various beats a year in advance, square the plan with editors, then generate stories that fit the pre-designated line.”

Reality usually had a way of intervening. But I knew one senior reporter who would play solitaire on his computer in the mornings, waiting for his editors to come through with marching orders. Once, in the Los Angeles bureau, I listened to a visiting National staff reporter tell a contact, more or less: “My editor needs someone to say such-and-such, could you say that?””

The bigger shock came on being told, at least twice, by Times editors who were describing the paper’s daily Page One meeting: “We set the agenda for the country in that room.”

So, if you think about what narrative the Times signed onto in early 2015, it would be the inevitability of Clinton’s victory, would it not? Certainly there was no place for Sanders coverage in any “pre-designated line,” since Sanders came out of nowhere. So, the Sanders campaign (and, to be fair, the Trump campaign) both charged ahead to the sound of smashing rice bowls: Not only is “the narrative” a commitment by subordinates to management (and by management to various power players), the episodes from which it is composed are the creation of the stenographer reporter and the sources to which the reporter has access, and that involves any amount of backscratching, favors exchanged, and careerist maneuvering, all of which the reporter will consider assets. News — “newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or important events” — puts the narrative in jeopardy. So we have another reason that the Times suppressed coverage of the Sanders campaign, beyond simple class hatred; class interest.

The Neoliberal Dispensation

Is there an example of a narrative that might not be, shall we say, the first item on the agenda of the Times’s daily Page One meeting? Why yes. Yes, there would be. In fact, there are certainly many such narratives, but this is the one that occurred to me: From a brutal takedown administered by Fed watcher Tim Duy (!) to the Times’ star faux Nobelist and globalization enabler, Paul Krugman. Here’s a narrative of neoliberalism’s “tsunami of globalization”:

That Krugman can wonder at the source of the disdain felt toward the liberal elite while lecturing Trump’s voters on their own self-interest is really quite remarkable.

I don’t know that the white working class voted against their economic interest. I don’t pretend that I can define their preferences with such accuracy. Maybe they did. But the working class may reasonably believe that neither party offers them an economic solution. The Republicans are the party of the rich; the Democrats are the party of the rich and poor. Those in between have no place.

That sense of hopelessness would be justifiably acute in rural areas. Economic development is hard work in the best of circumstances; across the sparsely populated vastness of rural America, it is virtually impossible. The victories are – and will continue to be – few and far between.

The tough reality of economic development is that it will always be easier to move people to jobs than the jobs to people. Which is akin to telling many, many voters the only way possible way they can live an even modest lifestyle is to abandon their roots for the uniformity of urban life. They must sacrifice their identities to survive. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile. Follow the Brooklyn hipsters to the Promised Land.

This is a bitter pill for many to swallow. To just sit back and accept the collapse of your communities. And I suspect the white working class resents being told to swallow that pill when the Democrats eagerly celebrate the identities of everyone else.

And it is an especially difficult pill given that the decline was forced upon the white working class; it was not a choice of their own making. The tsunami of globalization washed over them with nary a concern on the part of the political class. To be sure, in many ways it was inevitable, just as was the march of technology that had been eating away at manufacturing jobs for decades. But the damage was intensified by trade deals that lacked sufficient redistributive policies. And to add insult to injury, the speed of decline was hastened further by the refusal of the US Treasury to express concern about currency manipulation twenty years ago. Then came the housing crash and the ensuing humiliation of the foreclosure crisis.

The subsequent impact on the white working class – the poverty, the opioid epidemic, the rising death rates – are well documented. An environment that serves as fertile breeding ground for resentment, hatred and racism, a desire to strike back at someone, anyone, simply to feel some control, to be recognized. Hence Trump.

There’s plenty more to add to this narrative — Duy leaves out the failure to prosecute any bankster executives, and he leaves out how the Democrats turned against their former working class base after the Democratic Leadership Council inserted its proboscis into Bill Clinton’s quivering brain — but as a narrative, as an exercise in sense-making, it works.

Duy’s “subsequent impact” is illustrated by Branko Milanovic’s famous “elephant chart” (in either version; discussion here, and at the Financial Times here and here), which is explicitly characterized as “the narrative of 2016” by Conor Sen” at Bloomberg. The original chart:

original-elephant

The Resolution Foundation’s[1] revised version:

adjusted-elephant

Responding to the Resolution Foundation critique, Milanovic writes of “very substantial differences in middle-class income growth between Asia and the west [which I’ve helpfully boxed in red, above]. These differences are 5 per cent or more per year; they give the ‘elephant curve’ its distinctive shape.” (Those are the differences I’m concerned with, not what’s happening with the 1%.)

The red boxes show where income growth would have been if our elites hadn’t decided to lay waste to the Rust Belt and ship the jobs to Asia (and, to be fair, union-busting Souther States, and Mexico). Now, a mainstream neoliberal professional economist would say two things: (1) Globally, average well-being has improved, and (2) cheap consumer goods make up for any perceived fall in living standards here at home. Of course, averages conceal, and in this case what they conceal is that the livelihoods and families and communities of millions were destroyed after their work was shipped off to Asia, and crapified jobs at Walmart don’t make up for that, financially or as a matter of dignity. And iPhones don’t compensate for a boarded up Main Street. That’s the ground truth of the elephant curve. It’s also a narrative the Page One meeting has ignored for forty years, and looks to go on ignoring. Along with the press generally, and the economics professors, our elected representatives, and the political class generally.

Identity Politics

So that’s the story, or one story. But stories have morals. What moral does identity politics offer? Adolph Reed on identity politics[2]:

[I]t is a class politics, the politics of the left-wing of neoliberalism. It is the expression and active agency of a political order and moral economy in which capitalist market forces are treated as unassailable nature. An integral element of that moral economy is displacement of the critique of the invidious outcomes produced by capitalist class power onto equally naturalized categories of ascriptive identity that sort us into groups supposedly defined by what we essentially are rather than what we do. As I have argued, following Walter Michaels and others, within that moral economy a society in which 1% of the population controlled 90% of the resources could be just, provided that roughly 12% of the 1% were black, 12% were Latino, 50% were women, and whatever the appropriate proportions were LGBT people. It would be tough to imagine a normative ideal that expresses more unambiguously the social position of people who consider themselves candidates for inclusion in, or at least significant staff positions in service to, the ruling class.

This perspective may help explain why, the more aggressively and openly capitalist class power destroys and marketizes every shred of social protection working people of all races, genders, and sexual orientations have fought for and won over the last century, the louder and more insistent are the demands from the identitarian left that we focus our attention on statistical disparities and episodic outrages that “prove” that the crucial injustices in the society should be understood in the language of ascriptive identity.

So, if we ask an identitarian[3] whether shipping the Rust Belt’s jobs off to China was fair — the moral of the story — the answer we get is: “That depends. If the private equity firms that did it were 12% black, 12% Latino, and half women, then yes.” And that really is the answer that the Clintonites give. And, to this day, they believe it’s a winning one[4].

Conclusion

“A narrative” is not “the narrative.” And people are multifaceted, and select for narratives based on facets of their choosing[5]. But if one had to devise a narrative for political purposes, I think it makes sense to appeal to a facet shared by as many people as possible (and no more than possible). I’m guessing that upwards of 90% of United States voters work for wages, and hence a simple platform of universal concrete material benefits could be developed to appeal to all of them. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. It’s just math.

NOTES

[1] Blairite centrist? Perhaps a UK reader can clarify.

[2] This paragraph refers to “race politics,” but I think that’s a subset of “identity politics” (identitarianism). Certainly that’s how Ben Norton understood Reed.

[3] I hereby offer the title/elevator pitch “Ask An Identitarian!” to the first podcast willing to use it.

[4]. Hence the claim that liberals and the left are “on the same side.”

[5] That is the strength of intersectionality, IMNSHO. As readers know, I urge people to cross out “white” in the phrase “white working class” and see how that changes their thinking. The destruction of the Rust Belt affected the “white” working class located there most directly, but the entire working class, of all identities, was surely affected as well.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

70 comments

  1. paul

    I’m not sure I can clarify, but I see all the signs in the, uk labour party currently, as a repeat of the lessons they have failed to learn in scotland.
    Here,they stopped believing in anything other than the institution that aggrandised them and consequently lost practically all their base.
    In scotland, there was a reasonable( practical,rather old fashioned conservative in many ways, but vital at leastl) alternative, whereas in england you have no alternative. The scarecrow of UKIP has never actually landed apart from the couches of the bbc.
    Anthony Linton Blair has many regrets; not fully privatising the nhs and failing to lock in the euro, and like your clinton’s, feels under appreciated. He might see himself as a king across the water, but he is in a minority of one,
    Corbin and McDnnel are wilfully refusing to effectively adress the 65% that do not wish to see their lives reorganised for the whims of ther oligarchy. I understand why the establishment is against them, I do not understand why they do not seem to be openly against the establishment.

    1. Synoia

      Let the establishment revel them selves, while winning the immediate fights that they can win?

      Blair was a Tory.

    2. templar555510

      I think the answer to your last point lies in the sentence above ‘ … in which capitalist market forces are treated as unassailable nature . ‘ Corbyn and McDonnell believe this to be true it would appear because they have failed to come up with a model / narrative that in any way refutes it. This goes way back to the first post-war Atlee government . It lasted only six years and whilst its achievements – the creation of the NHS , the New Towns etc – were considerable in a redistributing the national cake , when the Tories came back in ’51 there began the narrative that Labour is unfit to control the money and that narrative stuck until Blair came along and we all know how he managed to change things . So now the Labour Party has on the face of it an avowed left-winger he has a mountain to climb if he is to persuade the electorate that Labour has a model for the money that says that capitalist forces are NOT unassailable nature .

  2. John k

    Dems are the party of the rich and poor.
    Really? When did they do something that benefitted the poor?
    I would say both parties are for the rich and both do their best to distract their respective base with talk of abortion or race, while neither would like these red meat distractions disappear by being in any solved.

    Why do they like these particular distractions? Because the rich don’t care about either.
    Trump broke the mold by talking about jobs in a meaningful way… immigration and exporting factories both boost unemployment, suppressing wages while boosting profits; these topics have been forbidden since Ross Perot spoke of millions of jobs going south on account of Nafta, exactly what happened.

    8mm official unemployment. 16mm reduced participation since 2005 in 25-54 age group.
    24mm total, not counting part timers that want full time… and 10mm fewer voted for dems in 2016 than 2008. Exactly the same number that voted for Romney voted for trump, so Hillary lost obamas third term not because of a wave of trump racists but because there was somehow dissatisfaction among former dem voters regarding the great jobs program, low cost healthcare, and prosecution of bankers and other elites that drove the economy off the cliff. Granted, nominating the second most unpopular person in America might not guarantee success…
    Anyway, Trump should say,
    Thanks, Obama!

    1. Synoia

      8mm official unemployment. 16mm reduced participation since 2005 in 25-54 age group.
      24mm total, not counting part timers that want full time

      Obama’s legacy. Read it and weep.

    2. John k

      I mis spoke.
      Nominating her had risks, but it assured Bernie would not be president, and Bernie was a far greater risk to bankers and the other dem paymasters than trump. Remember, for them it was existential, bernie would have jailed bankers. Trump is one of the oligarchs.
      With her nom bankers let out a sigh of relief and could thankfully murmur, ‘mission accomplished!’

      1. WheresOurTeddy

        Bernie would not be president only if they Bobby Kennedy’d him.

        It didn’t come to that. They just fixed the primary.

        1. Vatch

          If Sanders had won the Democratic nomination, and he had been “Bobby Kennedy’d”, people besides the conspiracy enthusiasts would have started to notice a pattern. Instead, there are millions of people who actually believe that Sanders lost the primaries to Clinton fair and square. Some of us know better. . . .

          As for patterns, Trump’s nominations for cabinet level offices are showing a pattern: billionaires, hecto-millionaires, overt vassals of the ultra-rich, and at least one (alleged) criminal: Ryan Zinke.

        1. ambrit

          True. Because of estate recovery, I am doing without medical “insurance” of any kind. As I tell Phyllis, if I get anything serious, just put me in my ragged old canvas chair in the back yard and keep the beer coming until I stop complaining.
          This entire Medicade story is curious. I had thought that any self respecting oligarchy would want reasonably powerful clients to buttress the oligarch’s power and influence. Instead, the Medicade Oligarchy buys into a “power base” of the poor and disenfranchised. The funds for this complex relationship are supplied, as best as I can discern, by the central government. What will the Medicade Oligarchs do when the “X” Oligarchs cut off or even just restrict the flow of funds from the central government?

          1. Cry Shop

            Not just estate recovery. Loading Medicaid with more claimants, particularly poor, ethnic minority claimants, was a great way to stress it’s gonig to need a neo-liberal cure, if the neo-cons don’t use the opportunity Obama gave them to out right kill it. Medicaid isn’t Medicare, and the retired folks know it. They, the retires, would kill it in a second if they could get an extra $100 per annum in free drugs.

            1. ambrit

              I’m not too sure about the “Retired” “Poor” divide anymore. The two groups are converging and merging. Any animus experienced here would be the result of restriction of total benefits available. In other words, an artificially engineered conflict.
              Once the “old folks” realize that they, as a class, are the poor, all bets will be off.

            2. marym

              Nor is Medicare Medicare, in the sense of being a fully public program. Medicare Advantage, Medicare supplemental insurance, and prescription drug insurance are all privatized.

          2. Tully

            the funds supplied by the central government. No.
            they are supplied by the taxpayers.
            That is the system – taxpayers subsidize private sector profits.

            1. ambrit

              I’m using an admittedly imperfect grasp of MMT as my basis of comparison. You have fallen into the Neoliberal trap of equating governments with households. The rich cheat the poor more subtly than with such an outright transfer of money, via taxes. If I understand correctly, taxes bring about a desired balance between the sectors. Where that balance lies is the point of contention.

  3. Nittacci

    “I’m guessing that upwards of 90% of United States voters work for wages”

    How is that possible with a 62% labor participation rate? Do you believe unemployed, retired, students and stay-at-home parents don’t vote?

    1. grayslady

      Yes, I had a problem with that phrase, as well; especially as older people (read “retired”) are known to have the highest percentage of actual voters. Assuming that the 90% is an overstatement, I don’t believe it negates the point that all ages and all races can find common ground on certain issues–Medicare for All being one of those issues. Seniors would definitely get behind an improved Medicare, just as students, unemployed, working poor, and others would support such a sensible universal health care program.

      1. ambrit

        “…sensible universal health care program.”
        Sensible for whom? For the presently entrenched oligarchs, the system in use now is perfectly sensible.

      1. funemployed

        They old though – retired folks love them some voting. Work or have worked for wages, or had vital domestic labor supported by a wage earning family member would surely get us over 90 IMO. (sorry for quibbling Lambert. I think we all get the point. Thanks for the lovely essay)

    2. sgt_doom

      Oh golly! Some rube who actually accepts the bullcrap of the labor participation rate, used to hide 20% or greater unemployment these many years!?!?!

      Would suggest you read the latest study by Katz and Krueger:

      http://dataspace.princeton.edu/jspui/bitstream/88435/dsp01zs25xb933/3/603.pdf

      94% of the so-called jobs creation under the Obama Administration (and actually going back to the Bush Administration 2005 to 2015) were part-time.

      That’s ninety-four percent, and 50% or more of new IT hires are foreign visa replacement workers (that means they are foreigners).

      If you still don’t understand please try reading more . . .

    3. Ray Phenicie

      It helps to see the arithmetic
      An Estimated 57.9 Percent of Eligible Voters Voted in 2016
      Voting Eligible Population——— Voter Eligible Population That ………………….Voter Eligible Population Total
      Ballots ……………………………….. Didn’t Vote
      138,884,643 (60 percent)………..92,671,979 (48 percent) ……………………………231,556,622

      So what if 90% were applied to the 60% leaving %54? That makes sense. Also voting age restrictions apply making the population sets comprised of different classes or groups ( I should have been an accountant): working population numbers from the government (a reliable number) include population numbers above age 16. But then again older people may continue to vote way past the age in which they would participate in the job market. So it’s not a strawberries to strawberries comparison but more of a strawberries to some kind of redberries. I can’t get any numbers right now on what percentage of the population is 16 and over but only on: 18 and under: 25%. Another complicating factor in comparing the two populations is that we just don’t know exactly what the numbers are on: what percentage of the population might be working (if there was a bonafide job market) and what percentage of the population we need to subtract out of the working population at the bottom end for under age 16 but its somewhere around 20%. 62.7% of the population > age 16 is working, that number has been as high as 67.3 in March of 2000. Remember that was at the launch of the bubble years to come when the private sector was taking on kajillions in debt.

      Just wanted to show how a comparison of the two populations would work and it got really messy right away. LOL>

  4. flora

    Yes. I see editorials in WaPo and NYT where the writer claims they’ve “woken up in another country”, they “don’t know what happened to the real America”, they “didn’t realize the country was so full of awful people”. They seem mighty disoriented by the neoliberal narrative, as given for the last 40 years, losing this election.

    1. Montanamaven

      That’s funny. Okay, I was soooo naive. I woke up finally in 2004 to the realization that the “awful ” people were the 01% including good friends. The Rest are trying to survive with dignity. They are not awful.

    2. clarky90

      The Hateful New York Times has been pushing the “Party Line” (narrative) since at least the 1920s, and has “artfully” facilitated the deaths (murder) of millions of deplorables – and the subsequent cover-up of the crimes.

      The New York Times and the Great Famine

      by Marco Carynnyk

      http://web.archive.org/web/20051106213446/http://ukrweekly.com/Archive/1983/378320.shtml

      “My editor was dubious. I had been explaining that 50 years ago, in the spring and summer of 1933, Ukraine, the country of my forebears, had suffered a horrendous catastrophe. In a fertile, populous country famed as the granary of Europe, a great famine had mowed down a sixth, a fifth and in some regions even a fourth of the inhabitants. Natural forces – drought, flood, blight – have been at least contributory causes of most famines. This one had been entirely man-made, entirely the result of a dictator’s genocidal policies. Its consequences, I said, are still being felt.

      Erudite, polyglot, herself a refugee from tyranny, the editor remained skeptical. “But isn’t all this…,” she leaned back in her chair and smiled brightly, “isn’t all this a bit recondite?”

      My face must have flushed. Recondite? Suddenly I knew the impotent anger Jews and Armenians have felt. Millions of my countrymen had been murdered, and their deaths were being dismissed as obscure and little known.

      Later I realized that the editor had said more than she had intended. The famine of 1933 was rationalized and concealed when it was taking its toll, and it is still hidden away and trivialized today. George Orwell need not have limited his observation to British intellectuals when he remarked that “huge events like the Ukraine famine of 1933, involving the deaths of millions of people, have actually escaped the attention of the majority of English Russophiles.”_1_

      Still later, after I had set about uncovering the whole story by delving into newspaper files and archives and talking to people who had witnessed the events of 1933, I came to understand how Walter Duranty and The New York Times helped Stalin make the famine recondite.

      Walter Duranty worked for The New York Times for 21 years……”

    3. sgt_doom

      Here in Seattle, our so-called “progressive” news program is filled with programs warning of the hordes of white nationalists amassing on the northern border, waiting to invade — and attacking Trump on his notion of keeping jobs in America and taxing companies which offshore them.

      The audacity of the unwashed masses in actually wanting a job, huh?

      Great article and blog posting, Mr. Strether, and please note this study:

      http://dataspace.princeton.edu/jspui/bitstream/88435/dsp01zs25xb933/3/603.pdf

      Also, David Harvey in a recent book (“Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism“) neatly disposed of identity politics with one sentence.

  5. clarky90

    I wish Joyous Christmas and New Year merriment to all of the NC commentariate!

    Everyday Stalinism
    Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times
    Soviet Russia in the 1930s
    Sheila Fitzpatrick p 31

    http://www.masterandmargarita.eu/estore/pdf/eren015_everydaystalinism.pdf

    The combination of ambiguous policy signals and the cult of secrecy could produce absurd results, as when certain categories of officials could not be informed of relevant instructions because the instructions were secret. In one blatant example, the theater censorship and the Ministry of Enlightenment, headed by A. V. Lunacharsky, spent weeks arguing at cross purposes about Mikhail Bulgakov’s controversial play Days of the Turbins, despite the fact that
    the Politburo had instructed the Ministry that the play could be staged, because “this decree was secret, known to only key officials in the administration of art, and Lunacharsky was not at liberty to divulge it.” [42] A few years later, after Stalin had expressed strong views on cultural policy in a private letter that had circulated widely, if unofficially, on the grapevine, Lunacharsky begged him to allow publication of the letter so that people would know what the party line on art actually was.

    Some of Stalin’s cultural signals were even more minimalist, involving telephone calls to writers or other cultural figures whose content was then instantly broadcast on the Moscow and Leningrad intelligentsia grapevine. A case in point was his unexpected telephone call to Bulgakov in 1930 in response to Bulgakov’s letter complaining of mistreatment by theater and censorship officials. The overt message of the call was one of encouragement to Bulgakov. By extension, the “signal” to the non-Communist intelligentsia was that it was not Stalin who
    harrassed them but only lower-level officials and militants who did not understand Stalin’s policy. This case is particularly interesting because the security police (GPU, at this date) monitored the effectiveness of the signal. In his report on the impact of Stalin’s call, a GPU agent noted that the literary and artistic intelligentsia had been enormously impressed. “It’s as if a dam had burst and everyone around saw the true face of comrade Stalin. ”People speak of Stalin’s simplicity and accessibility. They “talk of him warmly and with love, retelling in various versions the legendary history with Bulgakov’s letter.” They say that Stalin is not to blame for the bad things that happen: He follows the right line, but around him are scoundrels. These scoundrels persecuted Bulgakov, one of the most talented Soviet writers. Various literary rascals were making a career out of persecution of Bulgakov, and now Stalin has given them a slap in the face. [44]

    The signals with Stalin’s personal signature usually pointed in the direction of greater relaxation and tolerance, not increased repression. This was surely not because Stalin inclined to the “soft line,” but rather because he preferred to avoid too close an association with hard-line policies that were likely to be
    unpopular with domestic and foreign opinion. His signals often involved a “good Tsar” message: “the Tsar is benevolent; it is the wicked boyars (a member of the old aristocracy) who are responsible for all the injustice.” Sometimes this ploy seems to have worked, but in other cases the message evoked popular skepticism. When Stalin deplored the excesses of local officials during collectivization in a letter, “Dizzy with success,” published in Pravda in 1930, the initial response in the villages was often favorable. After the famine, however, Stalin’s “good Tsar” ploy no longer worked in the countryside, and was even mocked by its intended audience

  6. Charles Myers

    Clinton and Obama’s record were one and the same.

    She couldn’t take that message to fly over country.

    My God they voted for Trump.

    Talk about ready for change.

    1. WheresOurTeddy

      People chose the devil they don’t know over the absolute-slam-dunk-warmongering-elitist devil who’s been running for President since 2000 and fixed the (D) primary against the Roosevelt Democrat who would have beaten Trump by 10+ points.

      Don’t blame me. I voted Sanders. Hindsight is 2020.

        1. ambrit

          Yep. When the dominant financial venue is blatantly a “casino,” why not resort to chance?
          As the mood out in the hustings grows ever bleaker, the “kick the table over” strategy gains legitimacy among a wider and wider circle of people.

      1. different clue

        I will offer a sour and cynical theory suggesting why Sanders would have lost to Trump if Sanders had gotten the DemParty nomination. And here it is.

        The Catfood Democrat-Clintonite establishment would have combined and conspired to defeat Sanders the same way their spiritual ancestors conspired to defeat McGovern in 1972. And millions of Klinton Koolaid Kultists in the field would have voted against Sanders, one way or another.

        I wish Sanders would have won the DemParty nomination. Then the deceit and treachery of the Clintonite forces would have been exposed for all to see in the harsh light of a Trump default victory caused by Klintonite voters in their millions refusing to vote for Sanders no matter what.

  7. Rob Levine

    Was thinking that the identitarian part has a second component: That the misery visited on the 99% should also be apportioned equally by identity.

    1. Benedict@Large

      The problem with identity politics is that unless everyone has an identity, identity politics is a politics of exclusion. Something is carved out for those who have been “identified” (as worthy), while the rest stay where they are, or get left behind.

      1. Benedict@Large

        But note that this is only because we insist on operating under the zero sum economics of monetarism. Once this restriction is removed; once we acknowledge the power of the sovereign fiat, the zero sum is left behind, and the either-or choices forced upon us by identity politics are no longer necessary.

      2. sgt_doom

        Naaah, what it is really about is strictly economics: exclude any talk of class analysis, and concentrate on diversity and infantilism.

  8. Foppe

    Fascinating to learn that it is at least in some cases not only a problem of reporters being blind to problems because of their worldview, and that the frames they pick aren’t ‘just’ due to their education. In a way, it’s hopeful, because it means that even here, alternatives are/must be restricted in order to allow the world to be categorized into tiny little boxes, via Procrustes doing his thing.

    1. ambrit

      An early sign was the Procrustean “embedment” of journos in with the Army during the Gulf Wars. The suspension of disbelief required of the reader to accept the resultant “narrative” was, by any measure, a “stretch.”

      1. Foppe

        Yes, well. We must all do our bid to perpetuate the State — even those of us who are too weak-kneed to serve as cannon fodder (no disrespect intended, of course — just observing). After all, it’s only thanks to liberal “democracy” that our betters were able to create this best/least-worst of all possible worlds in the first place. Being bothered by those few remaining necessary egg-shells just goes to show I’m in the right place.

        1. ambrit

          Oh, good sir, those “necessary egg shells” are needed to settle the grounds of the strong coffee required to energize the masses to continue the work designed to bring on the Dawn of the Neoliberal dispensation!
          You are in the “right place.”
          As for States; some years ago, Louisiana had a motto on their automobile license plates that read; “Louisiana: A Dream State.” Truth in advertising. That motto didn’t last long.

  9. cnchal

    The bigger shock came on being told, at least twice, by Times editors who were describing the paper’s daily Page One meeting: “We set the agenda for the country in that room.”

    They believe their own fake news. Now they can’t believe their lying eyes.

  10. Chauncey Gardiner

    Difficult for me to believe the NYT originates “The Narrative” any more than Pravda or Izvestia did so in the USSR. I am more receptive to the idea that its senior editors coordinate with upstream sources to assure news coverage and opinion pieces are consistent with policies favored by the administration and other senior government officials, as well as other selected constituencies.

    Also of interest to me is what is occurring at the Washington Post in this regard.

    1. Another Anon

      CG,

      There may well be truth to that idea. I recall
      reading a blog post by a Swedish journalist who
      did an article on the NY Times. He writes that they
      have a building that none of their journalists are allowed
      to enter as it is sometimes visited by important dignitaries
      who negotiate how they will be covered. He gave
      Gaddafi of Libya as an example. I suppose this is possible if
      you fixing the narrative.

  11. RudyM

    The Michael Cieply story reminds me of this (from 9/14/2016):

    This off-limits part of the building was not only where the president would sit in on editorial board meetings, it was also the place where Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was received when he successfully negotiated to be removed from “The Axis of Evil” list after 9/11. At that point in time The New York Times was still considered perhaps the most important publication in the world, and what it wrote was thought to have a direct impact on the life and death of nations. Because of this, many powerful people would put a lot of effort and money into gaining preferable coverage from The New York Times. These floors, Bill Keller told me, was where the proprietor and the editors of the newspaper would meet with and negotiate deals with powerful visitors. In retrospect, whatever “deal” that Gaddafi struck with The New York Times, the exonerating article penned by Judith Miller didn’t save his life, nor did it save his nation from the might of the US air force.

    Despite the brutal fate that Gaddafi came to face, the assumption that The New York Times was capable of making meaningful deals with governments was not entirely unfounded. Bill Keller spoke of how he successfully negotiated to freeze the NSA warrantless wiretapping-story uncovered by Eric Lichtblau for two years until after the re-election of George W Bush. This top-floor was also where the Iraq WMD evidence was concocted with the help of the Pentagon and handed to reporter Judith Miller to pen, later letting her hang when the wind changed. This, Keller also told me, was where the CIA and State Department officials were invited to take part in daily editorial meetings when State Department Cables were published by WikiLeaks. I would personally witness how this was the place where Sulzberger himself oversaw the re-election coverage of president Obama. And this was much later where the main tax-evaders of the US would make their cases so that the Panama Papers on their tax records would never reach the public eye (which at the time of writing, they have yet to be).

    http://www.unz.com/article/an-obituary-of-the-new-york-times/

    1. Yves Smith

      Just an FYI, the reason that hardly any Americans featured in the Panama Papers was that Panama was not a favored destination for US tax evaders. So the Times had nothing to protect.

  12. John Merryman

    I still think the story is evolutionary. In the sense that just as the central nervous system of society, government, started as a privatized function and eventually evolved into a public utility, for basic reasons of efficiency and scale, the financial system, as the medium and circulation system of society, is going through a similar evolutionary process. The premise of vast notional wealth, which is necessarily backed by debt, is insupportable, at its current levels, simply because the debt is unsustainable. So collapse is inevitable and the only question is how well and quickly we develop a viable alternative.

  13. Kim Kaufman

    From The Devil’s Chessboard: Allan Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government by David Talbot, which I am still reading. Regarding the overthrow of Arbenz of Guatemala:

    “The U.S. press coverage of the Guatemala coup offered a sanitized account, one that smacked of CIA manipulation. The leading newspapers treated the overthrow of Arbenz’s government as a topical adventure, an “opera bouffe,” in the words of Hanson Baldwin, one of Dulles’s trusted friends at The New York Times. Nonetheless, reported Baldwin, the operation had “global importance.” This is precisely how Dulles liked his overseas exploits to be chronicled – as entertaining espionage capers, with serious consequences for the Cold War struggle. New York Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger was extremely accommodating to Dulles throughout the covert operation, agreeing to keep foreign correspondent Sydney Gruson, whom Dulles considered insufficiently compliant, out of Guatemala and even assuring the CIA director that Gruson’s future articles would be screened “with a great deal more care than usual.”

    1. sgt_doom

      Thank you and this is the point I try to make to everyone I come into contact with today, there has been almost nothing BUT Fake News my entire life, and then we spend our adult lives trying to find out the truth!

      And BTW, turns out that Tracy Barnes was Allen Dulles’ cousin in the CIA, and thus after Dulles was fired he still had his hand in there.

  14. Cry Shop

    The Republicans are the party of the rich; the Democrats are the party of the rich and poor. Those in between have no place.

    The Republicans and the Democrats are parties of the rich who use the poor. Both use the poor as a lever to extract wealth from the shrinking resource known as middle class. There is only a superficial difference in how they use them, and in both cases a real democracy has no place in their governance.

  15. Jabawocky

    For anyone interested in the inner workings of the print media I highly recommend ‘Flat Earth News’ by Nick Davies. It is a little uk centric but Davies, the guy that broke Murdoch’s phone hacking conspiracy, is authoritative.
    The chapter on the role of the security services in the press is quite interesting and gives important context for understanding the current attempts to centralise control of the internet news narrative.

  16. Dave

    At the street level, the narrative has certainly changed.
    I am seeing groups of strangers passionately arguing politics in public places such as lines in supermarkets.

    This in a county that voted for Clinton by 80%, about half of the debaters are pro-Trump.
    Excellent opportunity to mention Naked Capitalism….”it’s a highly informative economic and political website. It’s one word and it’s not a porno site, honest!”.

    I wonder how many people can’t find the website because their browsers screen for the word “naked”?

  17. Jeremy Grimm

    We have “The Narrative” which describes the tendency for the “news” to follow an agenda of occult origins, with the New York Times acting as an important coordinating and controing force. We have the “Neoliberal Dispensation” characterizing the item #1 of the Times agenda along with the elephant charts [Would the “elephant” charts have as much impact as a visual without the “elephant”? Similarly I’ve often wondered whether the “hockey stick” chart received its notoriety from its content or its shape.] Lastly we have “Identity Politics” as the moral of the story. I am confused by what “Justice” has to do with identity politics. I view notions of social “Justice” in terms of equations of percent participation as ludicrous. It makes for a nice reducio ad absurdum — but it oversimplifies identity politics and minimizes too much of its dark side. And in conclusion the category of voters who work for wages is a major constituency who would respond to a “simple platform of universal concrete material benefits” — “a chicken in every pot”?

    I’m not sure what to make of this post.

    And Tim Duy’s takedown of Krugman introduces several unhappy inclusions of neoliberal thought:
    “tsunami of globalization” … “in many ways it was inevitable, just as was the march of technology that had been eating away at manufacturing jobs”. The “damage was intensified by trade deals that lacked sufficient redistributive policies”.

    How is globalization “inevitable”? The language “redistributive policies” is too reminiscent of the kind of market based repair advocated for dealing with climate change like the carbon trading schemes. If I lived in a rural area — like Detroit, Cleveland or Pittsburg — or like some of the not-so-small towns in the Midwest that used to produce parts for General Motors or build International Harvester tractors — I would not appreciate Tim Duy’s notion of losing what he seems to suggest is an anachronistic way of life. And are they being forced to abandon “their roots for the uniformity of urban life”? Are Brooklyn hipsters following the road to the Promised Land? Tim Duy needs to look again. The road to the Promised Land leads to Camden — not trendy Brooklyn.

  18. F.Korning

    well said.

    identity is divisive. it operates on so many different planes, narrows and intersects into individuality. it is the opposite of collectivism. really there is only one sailient discriminator: class struggle. ie the rentiers vs the regimented. everything else is distraction and misdirection. the illusion of identity works twofold: assigning attributes innate to what the plebs are, their static origins, their appartenance to this or that tribe, reduced to circumstance and fixed in time. by opposition, the 1%, the moneyed, are a state of dynamism and achievement, of merit. they are entitled to virtuous growth. everyone else is fractionalised, compartmentalised, reduced to identity, frozen in time and space and paucity.

  19. jam

    Relying on Adolph Reed’s reductive commitment to a narrative of identity politics as a ‘left wing’-neoliberal model of ‘appropriate proportions,’ a view enabled only through the effacement of anti-capitalist forms of identity/intersectional politics, in a post critical of an official ‘narrative’ seems unwise, no?

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