Yves here. One small quibble in this otherwise instructive piece is Rob Urie’s use of the word Left. By this he seems to mean liberals, particularly the professional-managerial class sort, while we here use left to mean advocacy of better material conditions for labor and the lower income.
By Rob Urie, author of Zen Economics, artist, and musician who publishes The Journal of Belligerent Pontification on Substack
At present, it is difficult to see how US politics get sorted in a way that avoids calamity. The Biden administration’s proxy war against Russia in Ukraine appears to have been lost on the battlefield. In the midst of the Disney-on-meth-and-cough-syrup ‘pageantry’ of American elections, truth about the US-provoked catastrophe is unlikely to emerge, leaving most Americans wildly detached from the genocidal foreign policy being carried out in their names. Meanwhile, the administration’s Covid-19 ‘response’ has assured that a significant proportion of the population is being permanently disabled by long Covid.
From history, the US war in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia was understood to be ‘unwinnable’ (link below) by the political leadership of the US by the mid-1960s. However, no US president was willing to ‘lose’ Vietnam because of feared domestic political repercussions, leading them to implement profoundly destructive policies to crush domestic opposition to the war while multiple millions of Vietnamese nationalists were slaughtered. The war left three and one-half million Vietnamese dead and the land poisoned with Agent Orange. It finally ended in 1975.
With the military draft in place for most of that war, America’s ruling class was at least in theory at risk of being sent to fight and die in Vietnam. This led to a bourgeois revolt whereby the so-called educated classes turned against a war that was being overwhelmingly fought by working class kids. The bourgeois that joined the military were given leadership positions which many used to launch careers when their tours were up. However, because of bourgeois resistance to the draft, which sometimes bled through to the war, the draft was ended, leaving behind wars that are consequence-free for most Americans.
This removal of consequences led the class that opposed the US war in Vietnam to be the primary supporters of the US proxy war against Russia in Ukraine. Bourgeois class interest in 1967 was to oppose the Vietnam War because of the risk of being drafted. The bourgeois class interest in 2023 is to support the US proxy war in Ukraine because it is benefitting from it, at least in the near term. Tellingly, the articles in the bourgeois press about the causes of the war leave out all of the (true and relatively unambiguous) history cited by Russia to have motivated the conflict. Use of selective history is a form of deception.
On the Covid pandemic front, Lambert Strether from nakedcapitalism.com has done yeoman’s work keeping an analytical eye on it. The pandemic is politically relevant for more than just the misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation that has been disseminated by the Biden administration and the CDC about it. While Americans have been told that the pandemic is over, missing is that long-Covid is debilitating by degree, with a very real risk that ten to fifteen million Americans have been permanently disabled by it, most of them while Joe Biden has been in office (125 million infected X 10% long Covid rate = twelve and one-half million disabled).
This combination of the American proxy war in Ukraine and the domestic response to the Covid-19 pandemic was chosen because it illustrates the radical detachment of American governance from the political will and needs of the people. While the view here is that the permanent government in the US will prevail until it doesn’t, the question of how the US will extricate itself from Ukraine must be answered. And while the focus of this piece is on domestic politics, what of the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers who have been slaughtered to date? If you imagine that the Russians are responsible for these deaths, you haven’t been listening to the American political leadership exhibiting its glee at convincing Ukrainians to die for it.
While the bourgeois/Left press has focused on irreconcilable political and cultural differences in the polity— as if it had nothing to do with stoking these differences, the facts suggest a singular, if dynamic, political economy that has crafted a citizen-free set of policies intended to perpetually increase the power of the few over the many. Via technology, capital has shifted from using psychological coercion to sell its wares to using state power to force consumption. With a stunning lack of political foresight, the US has created commercial dependencies— e.g. the insurance industry bears no natural relation to healthcare, that leave ‘us’ beholden to corporate power.
One of the charges against Donald Trump (disclosure: I have never voted for a Republican) was that he ‘interrupted’ US foreign policy by challenging the foreign policy establishment to explain itself. Were Trump to be re-elected with the war in Ukraine still underway, the bet here is that he will bend to the will of the three-letter agencies. But what if he doesn’t? According to the fascist Left in the US, and despite four years of evidence to the contrary, Trump would be seeking an alliance with Vladimir Putin. If such an alliance ended the war, why would this be a bad thing?
This brings ‘us’ to the problem for the American foreign policy establishment that would arise if Trump (or whomever) negotiates a peace with Russia that sees the Russians withdraw from the parts of Ukraine that haven’t been permanently annexed. Were the Russians to fail to march on Europe, the American claim that the Russians are imperial competitors would be revealed to be the paranoid fantasy of a declining empire. In fact, the Russians have negotiated two settlements (see here, here) with Ukraine that the Biden administration stepped in to destroy. These were 450,000 or so dead Ukrainian soldiers before Biden claimed that Russia would ‘never negotiate.’
Readers are free to disagree with the particulars of this analysis. What isn’t in dispute is a startling disconnect between bourgeois assessments of the political and economic states of the US and those of vast majorities of the citizens. According to a new poll from the Pew Research Center, only four percent (4%) of Americans believe that the American political system is working. Four percent. In 2023. The reason why the year is important is because the elevation of Joe Biden was the response-from-power that was supposed to right the ship-of-state.
With the wisdom of hindsight, the full-throated (and batshit crazy) response of officialdom to the election of Donald Trump emerged over irritation that electoral politics was interfering with the policies of the permanent government. Neocon-neoliberal warmongers are now called ‘liberal imperialists’ because they espouse woke principles as they bomb the peoples of ‘competing’ nations into tiny pieces. However, as the results of the Pew poll suggest, the public has lost political interest in policies that benefit oligarchs and corporate executives alone. This result pits the institutions of the Federal government against the political will of the American people.
This latter point is important to understand. Russiagate was the American foreign policy establishment’s response to ‘interference’ from the duly elected president of the United States. Mr. Trump and the half of voters who voted for him likely believed that the President, in consultation with Congress, determines American foreign policy. Well, Russiagate was a case of the CIA, FBI, and the NSA disrespectfully disagreeing that the President has any say in US foreign policy unless it supports the CIA’s position. Biden has been a craven tool of the CIA for most of his time in Congress.
This latter point is important to understand. If elections don’t result in a transfer of power due to interference from the permanent state, the form of American governance is authoritarian. Via the convergence of corporate with permanent state institutions, the US already has fascistic form. Through the ascendance of this permanent government that is unanswerable to the polity as it unilaterally launches imperial wars, the US moves to full-blown fascism. If you want to see American fascist atrocities, look at the consequences of US foreign policy since capital has been placed in a position to control the American state.
In prospective terms, sixty-three percent— approximately two-thirds of the Americans asked, have little to no confidence in the form of the US political system. For those with memories— I’ll leave it at that low threshold for the moment, Democrats and the fascist Left in the US have claimed for the last seven years that the problem is ‘Republicans.’ One problem with this claim is that US foreign policy, a/k/a forever wars, are a bipartisan affair misleadingly put forward as the product of whichever party is in power when wars are started. For instance, Bill Clinton’s ‘Iraq Liberation Act’ established George W. Bush’s subsequent war against Iraq as official US policy.
Graph: corporate profits (blue line) cycled around wages and salaries (red line) from the end of WWII to about 2000, when financialization took over the American economy. Basic political logic would have led Barack Obama to return this relationship to its historical range had neoliberal ideology not consumed the American Left. As history has it, Mr. Obama’s Wall Street bailouts returned control of the US economy to the same people that crashed it. And in fact, these ‘profits’ represent the transfer of political control to the rich. Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve.
The graph above of wages and salaries of American workers versus corporate profits is relevant in several ways. In the first, the period prior to 2000 saw a well-behaved mean-reverting process around a rolling mean. From 2000 forward a break occurred by which capital took ever-larger proportions of corporate revenues for itself. The claim in 2020 was that ‘lunch-bucket Joe’ (Biden) would reverse this trend with labor-friendly policies. In fact, Biden instantly reneged on his promise to raise the minimum wage. While pandemic funding muddies the picture, corporate profits exploded under Biden as wages and salaries went nowhere.
What this leaves is an epoch in which corporations have ‘partnered’ with the Federal government to raise corporate profits while excluding labor from its historic share. This epoch started around the mid-1990s and accelerated through the Biden years. Claims of a return to ‘normalcy’ through the election of Biden refer to the power of the Biden administration to silence its critics. My Google searches now return 1/10,000th of the relevant results that they did a quarter of a century ago. Actual history has been systematically replaced with propaganda that would embarrass the ‘running dog lackeys’ propagandists attributed by the CIA to Chinese Maoists of the 1960s.
Graph: the question of why Joe Biden finds China’s economic policies objectionable in 2023 leads back to Mr. Biden’s support for China entering the WTO in 2000. Mr. Biden and his neoliberal colleagues were true believers in the fantasy that capitalism works as neoliberal economists claim that it does. Were that the case, they (US officials) would be singing Kumbaya with Chinese officials instead of tossing poorly considered, anti-historical, threats of imminent war at them. The original sin was siding with oligarchs to end manufacturing in the US. Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve.
The point: politicians and pundits looking for reasons why Americans are angry regarding ‘our’ political system need to leave their chairs every few decades and take a look around. The graph of corporate profits illustrates 1) the post-Great Recession surge in corporate profitability that has accelerated since Joe Biden entered office, 2) the epochal nature of this acceleration, and 3) labor has not benefited at all. Most likely, American capitalism has entered a terminal stage, call it the Louis XVI stage, where a remote and ghettoized ruling class misrules until it is no longer permitted to do so. In this respect, expect the Left in the US to act as a reactionary force in support of official power, as it has for the last seven years.
In class terms, the urban bourgeois support power because it pays their salaries. Corporations, NGOs, and so-called non-profits are concentrated in cities because Federal support has favored urban-based industries in recent decades. In other words, cities are where the paychecks are since the US was deindustrialized 1975 – 2023. ‘Woke’ is neoliberal framing of the path to ‘just’ capitalism. ‘Just’ capitalism is political economy where a few people control everything and tell the rest of us what to do for 40 – 60 hours per week for a preponderance of our lives.
Younger readers likely don’t know that this theory of how to accomplish social justice has a long, ignoble, history in the US. Federal Affirmative Action laws were in effect until the planned demolition of the industrial economy was completed. Industrialization had led the Great Migration of Southern Blacks to Northern factories. Deindustrialization was an oligarch-led undertaking to break the back of organized labor, with the added benefit of leaving US negotiators to negate labor and environmental regulations through the creation of international adjudicating bodies peopled by corporate representatives.
Erased from memory is that Black industrial workers sounded a lot like the supporters of Donald Trump in the 1980s and 1990s as deindustrialization was underway because they had been placed in direct competition with recent immigrants and foreign workers. Through financialization, Black access to credit led to a credit-based economy, and with it, the predatory loans that left utter devastation behind when Wall Street imploded around 2008. Given the known results of the Great Migration when NAFTA was being negotiated, how could deindustrialization that disproportionately impacted Blacks not be considered racist?
In fact, there is little evidence that race was considered when NAFTA was being negotiated. Here, from the Clintonite faction of the fascist Left, is a document that explains the relation of race to trade policy while claiming that the Republican version is racist while the Democrats’ version isn’t. With due respect, this type of self-serving parsing is intended to place blame on ‘Republicans’ so as to avoid blame being attached to the system of political economy that made the Democrats’ trade policies racist under their own terms of discourse.
The ’lesson’ here is that too-clever-by-half political party efforts to blame what ails us on the other party have lost some of their potency through the political incapacity of either party to legislate in the public interest. This formulation is a little messy because neoliberalism is the theory / ethos that what benefits capital and the rich benefits us all. This is the ideological path by which open graft has come to represent the ‘American system.’ It is also how a stealth class war was rendered visible. If legislators perceive the interests of business to reside in the executive suites, that is where they apply their energy. Labor, in this view, is a detraction from business interests.
Graph: as planned deindustrialization took root in the US, the loss of higher paying manufacturing jobs devastated Black communities. Following China’s entry into the WTO in 2000, this trend accelerated, tying the lots of Black communities to those of working-class White communities. This puts a lie to the received wisdom from officialdom that ‘economic anxiety’ was a White, working-class malady. And in fact, readers are invited to describe bank robbery at gunpoint as ‘economic anxiety’ on the part of bankers. That banks are protected by law from robbery while American labor isn’t illustrates ruling class control of ‘our’ discourse. Source: axios.com.
Democrats interested in why so-called ‘minority’ voters are fleeing their party, at least until the DNC works with the CIA to frighten them back into the fold, may wish to consider the aggregate class position of American Blacks. Through the Great Migration, Southern Blacks found employment in Northern factories until planned deindustrialization was implemented 1980 – 2023. This shifted them from being landless, or modestly landed, peasants to solidly working class. In the graph of corporate profits above, American Blacks on average find themselves without a benefit from surging corporate profits.
Woke fantasies and seven dollars might buy someone a cup of coffee. But the surge in corporate profits— while labor sees none of it, illustrates the challenge. As long as race is in the aggregate a class relation, woke solutions from authoritarian liberals will be racist. Consider: Joe Biden has been sold as the second coming of Dr. Martin Luther King. What has he wrought? A surge in corporate profits, creation of a permanently disabled class from long Covid, and a proxy war against nuclear armed Russia. I fail to see the social justice of any of this.
The Pew poll referenced above should be ringing alarm bells in official circles. And while it would be a mistake to underestimate the capacity of liberal institutions with unlimited resources to shift the political trajectory back toward liberal/ Left fascism, the powers-that-be have lit fires that they now have no idea how to put out. If you are blessed with ignorance of how cra-cra these powers have been through history, spend a little time reading about American General Curtis LeMay.
Unlike the dim cowards currently advising Joe Biden, LeMay put his own life at risk on many occasions. And, like Biden, LeMay had a nationalist / racist hatred of the Russians. Unlike Biden, LeMay had a plan. That plan was to launch an unprovoked nuclear attack against Russia and China that, through nuclear winter, would have killed 99% of the human population of the planet. I guarantee that Vladimir Putin knows this history as certainly as I know that the Americans ‘advising’ Joe Biden don’t.