Yves here. Rob Urie describes below how what are increasingly legacy parties in the US are stoking hatred of the other side as the way to redirect well-deserved resentment away from predatory elites. The new model is even more insidious than older forms of capitalism. At least Jay Gould had to hire one half of the working class to kill the other half. In our Brave New World of ever better propaganda, most can be manipulated to operate against their best interest on the cheap.
And speaking of the world, in Davos, the so-called elites are openly expressing their fear of losing control of the lower orders. For instance:
The EC president actually told the assembled oligarchs at Davos that “misinformation” and “disinformation” are the greatest threat to the world.
In other words, they cannot think of anything—any threat, any danger—worse than their inability to control what you think. https://t.co/BBQebqrvTo
— Larry Sanger (@lsanger) January 17, 2024
I do have one quibble with Urie’s otherwise very informative and well documented piece. The big trigger for the concerted push started by what then was a small but determined group of right-wingers, led by the likes of the Cohrs and Koch families plus the Birchers, was not very much the growning push for greater social justice but the determination to undo New Deal reforms and LBJ’s Great Society. The Powell memo, which codified this initiative in 1971, overwhelmingly focused on their desire to change American values to be more business-friendly.
By Rob Urie, author of Zen Economics, artist, and musician who publishes The Journal of Belligerent Pontification on Substack
With the Biden administration declaring the American people to be the greatest threat to the continued existence of the US, and Donald Trump proclaiming that ‘our threat is from within,’ the cynical machinations of American institutions during the Trump years are now being inflicted back onto political scapegoats of convenience. Of course, neither putative political ‘leader’ is slandering all Americans. This is a politics of social division, of blaming largely voiceless people for problems they had no part in creating in order to deflect blame for the decline of American empire and the dislocations it is causing.
To the extent that people’s politics align with who they vote for, 98% of self-described ‘Progressives’ voted for Biden in 2020 (chart below). This, as voters have been fleeing both of the duopoly / uniparty parties at moments of political failure for the last two-plus decades. Republicans fled the Republican Party when George W. Bush’s war against Iraq headed south around 2005 (graph below). Democrats fled the Democratic Party once it became clear that Barack Obama was going to save Wall Street on the public dime while leaving unemployment and foreclosures to fester.
Graph: both of the legacy political parties in the US have been losing voters for two-plus decades. Republican voters fled the party when George W. Bush’s war against Iraq headed south around 2005. Democrats began fleeing when it became clear that Barack Obama was going to save Wall Street while leaving unemployment and foreclosures to fester. In both cases, this is evidence that voters have left the duopoly / uniparty because they object to its policies, and not as a fashion statement. Source: pewresearch.org.
At present, Joe Biden is actively working to dissuade Donald Trump’s supporters from voting for him (Biden) by calling them racists and extremists. And Donald Trump is calling Mr. Biden’s supporters ‘vermin.’ Each is crafting their own sanctimonious cult of culture warriors to vote against the other candidate. This reflects a political culture where defeating the other party is close to all that matters for the zombie death cults that are what remain of the legacy parties after the voters who care about policy fled.
Think about it: in both 2005 and 2010 voters fled (graph above) their respective duopoly / uniparty parties at moments of policy failure, suggesting that they did so because of these policy failures. Moreover, fleeing Democrats could have re-registered as Republicans, and vice versa, if ‘moving right / left’ or ‘sending a message’ were their goal(s). What they did by implication was to shift their allegiance from parties to policy goals that aren’t represented by the duopoly / uniparty. Independents are the ‘none-of-the-above’ party with respect to the legacy party candidates.
Consider: with those who care about policy fleeing the legacy parties, this leaves only people who don’t care about policy, aka party loyalists, running the parties. Suddenly the logic of ‘defeating the other party’ versus winning the ability to govern makes sense. Doing so takes the focus off of policies that were crafted to benefit donors while they were sold as public policy (e.g. ACA). It also explains why party loyalists stand by their candidates no matter how many policy betrayals they encounter. Question: which class doesn’t care about public policy? That would be the beneficiaries of the current distributions of wealth and power.
Graph: despite regular protestations from the self-described ‘radical left’ in the US that its politics differ from those of self-described liberals, this distinction isn’t borne out in voting trends. With 98% of the ‘radical left’ having voted for Joe Biden in 2020, the functional distinction between it and American liberals is that the radical left was far more enthusiastic about Mr. Biden than liberals were. The explanation may be TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome), but TDS is a product of CIA and FBI machinations, not analytical insight. Source: pewresearch.org.
The question then is how the US got to the point where half of the country is ready to kill the other half, and vice versa. The answer: capitalism. About a half century ago oligarchs and corporate executives decided that they had had enough of liberation politics (e.g. Black Liberation, Women’s Liberation) and they launched a form of corporatism called neoliberalism. While definitions vary, neoliberalism is capitalist imperialism as a class politics, very close in structure to Lenin’s explanation of the capitalist state found in The State and Revolution. In that exposition, the state exists to serve the interests of the rich and powerful.
Compare this to the claim that elections grant political legitimacy to the state through the will of the people. Well, the largest political party in the US— Independents, is functionally precluded from fielding candidates by the duopoly / uniparty. And the ‘right’ of Independents to vote for duopoly / uniparty candidates begs the question of why voters fled the parties if the party candidates were their choice? Moreover, why did these departures coincide with dramatic and well-publicized policy failures? The reasonable conclusion to draw is that the American electoral system is broken. It does not represent the will of the people.
Graph: the oft-stated rationale for implementing neoliberalism was to reverse the fall in the rate of profits for large, Western, corporations. In fact, what neoliberalism has accomplished has been to lower the rate of economic growth, while raising the rate of profit for large corporations. Implied in this arithmetic is that it is workers who have been squeezed. (P = profits, R = Revenues, C = Costs (including wages), and G = rate of economic growth). Let G be a proxy for P. P = (R – C)). For P to rise in step with R, C must be near constant. And voila, ‘inequality’ is the result. Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve.
If you’re a well-trained American, you should be asking what politics could possibly have to do with economics right about now. That Joe Biden launched WWIII to ‘send a message to China’ can be interpreted as a merging of politics with economics. US based oil and gas companies wanted to sell their oil and gas to developed Europe. Russia had already built two pipelines to deliver Russian natural gas to Europe. So, the Biden administration blew up the Russian pipelines to force the Europeans to buy natural gas from US-based suppliers at a higher price.
The problem of economic decline for the majority, whereby the rate of GDP growth has slowed at the same time that connected insiders in business and politics are taking a larger portion of the economic pie for themselves, means that most people are worse off under the current political-economic order than before it was implemented. This tension led to criticism of Mr. Obama’s program to recover the wealth of the rich (the bailouts) while doing very little for everyone else. The net effect of his actions was to further shift the internal balance of power in the US toward the rich and away from the rest of us.
Graph: this overly complicated map illustrates a basic truth— that NATO (dark blue-green) has systematically surrounded the Black Sea with the apparent purpose of denying Russia access to its naval fleet in and around Sevastopol, Crimea. The missing pieces from NATO’s perspective are Georgia and Ukraine (powder blue), whose prospective memberships in NATO have been the subject of US world-domination fantasies for a couple of decades now. This is why the US coup in Ukraine in 2013 – 2014 set off alarm bells in Moscow. Were the US to control Crimea, it would control Russian access to the Russian naval fleet in the Black Sea. Source: geostrategy.org.uk.
Having missed the moment during his 2020 campaign when Mr. Biden promised to launch a war against Russia while supporting the Israeli genocide in Gaza, these have been explained after-the-fact as responses to unexpected geopolitical emergencies. In fact, here is Democrat Adam Schiff explaining in 2019 that the purpose of US arms shipments to Ukraine was to ‘fight Russia over there so that we don’t have to fight them over here.’ The point: Biden was Barack Obama’s ‘man in Ukraine’ during and after the US-led coup against the elected government of Ukraine. He both ‘couped’ Ukraine in 2013 – 2014, and was busy making plans for war with Russia on inauguration day 2021.
There is an imperialist logic to (‘US-based’) multi-national oil and gas companies trying to cut Russia out of the oil and gas business. However, as stated by Mr. Schiff, the US was already at war with Russia on Joe Biden’s inauguration day. And that war was taking place in Eastern Ukraine, with an army built by the CIA on one side and the Russians on the other. The most straightforward explanation is that the US invaded Ukraine via the coup in 2013 – 2014, after which the CIA organized an army from existing Ukrainian militias and launched a genocidal war against ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine, with the apparent goal of drawing Russia into a war.
That 98% of the self-described ‘radical left’ (chart above) in the US both voted for Biden in 2020 and subsequently promoted the CIA’s theory that the Russian move into Ukraine in February, 2022 was ‘unprovoked,’ certainly looks like a setup. While TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome) serves as a partial explanation for the poor quality of that ‘left’ analysis, the CIA, via Russiagate, is uniquely responsible for TDS. In fact, given that the proportion of the ‘radical left’ that voted for Mr. Biden was much higher than the proportion of self-described liberals who did, the ‘radical left’ in the US looks a lot like a CIA psyop.
Graph: Life Expectancy at Birth, the most inclusive measure of how long people are expected to live, fell off a cliff around 2014, the very pit of the Great Recession. In fact, life expectancy has fallen so much more in the US than in similar countries abroad as to suggest that one of the greater social calamities in human history is underway in the US right now. That Democrats are worried about Trump! rather than reversing the healthcare calamity that has their name on it (Obamacare), is further evidence that voters who care about policy long ago abandoned the Democratic (and Republican) party. Source: kff.org.
As yours truly has been writing regularly over recent years, far more Americans have been dying from preventable causes than are the citizens of peer countries (graph above). In both absolute and relative terms, the scale of these ‘excess deaths,’ or the decline in life expectancy if you prefer, looks quite like a nation in full societal collapse. With the ACA (Obamacare) passed in 2010 and fully implemented in 2015, excess deaths exploded higher. While this isn’t precisely a causal argument— that the ACA caused these deaths, neither did it prevent them. And while excess deaths in the US exploded higher in 2022, health insurance executives saw their best year ever in terms of executive compensation. This has been true every year since Obamacare was implemented.
What would be considered a national emergency on the scale of the Cuban Missile Crisis or 9/11/2001 if it were happening to the rich doesn’t even merit a mention by the political class or the establishment media in the US. Forgotten is that Barack Obama had corrupt, revolving door, hacks like former Senator Max Baucus put a lobbyist for the health insurance industry, Liz Fowler, in charge of writing the ACA. In the neoliberal worldview, who knows how to make the healthcare system better than health insurance lobbyists? Industries were made increasingly ‘self-regulating’ over the prior five decades. That no one is looking back to see if self-regulation ‘worked’ (it didn’t) is telling.
In fact, life expectancy is a function of wealth in the US. The rich live over a decade longer than the poor. This helps explain why ‘policy’ voters have been fleeing the legacy parties for two-plus decades now. The rich— those who live the longest in current circumstances, don’t care about public healthcare because they have their own. Mr. Obama’s shift to a ‘market-based’ system (Obamacare) is based in the oligarchic / neoliberal premise that poor people need rich people to tell them what to do. And the ‘failure’ of the poor to follow the dictates of the rich absolves the rich in their own minds.
Graph: interpretation of the graph is it that changes in economic circumstances have a lagged effect on life expectancy measured in years. Using serial correlation as the metric, changes in economic circumstances take eight – ten years to show up in life expectancy data. Improving economic circumstances are correlated with rising life expectancy 8 – 10 years hence,
and declining economic conditions are correlated with declining life expectancy with the same lag. Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve,
The problem, of course, isn’t the economic growth rate (graph above), but its distribution. In other words, there would be enough for everyone if a few people weren’t taking it all for themselves. The current concentration of wealth across the West is the greatest in modern history. If the share of GDP growth that has accrued to the rich over recent years (100%) had instead been equitably distributed, the drop in life expectancy in the US would have been much smaller. In the first place, poor and working people wouldn’t have been desperate to the point of self-annihilation. In the second, more people would have been able to afford healthcare. And finally, rebalancing incomes and wealth downward would have rebalanced political power downward as well.
To understand this dynamic in current political terms, Joe Biden supports the genocide in Israel for the same reason that he is oblivious to the world-historic decline in life expectancy for poor and working-class Americans. The people doing the dying are invisible to him. The gamesmanship of geopolitics that he and the ideocracy he surrounds himself with is just that, a game, to the people who see themselves as immune from the consequences of their actions. How enthusiastic toward war would US Senator Linsey Graham be if the major cities of his state (South Carolina) were in ruins and everyone important to him had been killed?
Graph: Left: an Israeli woman mocking the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza by donning Palestinian garb and blackening her teeth to simulate decay. Right: racist caricature of American Blacks by two men in blackface. The lack of self-awareness on the part of the Israelis engaged in racist mockery is evidence of how far removed they are from the consequences of their actions. The same is true of the American political leadership that found Israeli fantasies of murdered babies and mass rapes on October 7th plausible. Source: YouTube, films.com.
The irony, paradox, whatever you wish to call it, of Mr. Biden and his party publicly slandering ‘white supremacists’ in the US while publicly endorsing religious supremacists, aka Zionists, and the genocide they are carrying out in Gaza, illustrates an important truth. Israeli actions vis-à-vis the Palestinians are both conspicuously ‘white supremacist’ and Zionist. The two are inseparable given the history. The land that Zionists claim as their own was already occupied by Palestinians when the nation of Israel was created. How can a Zionist state be formed with Palestinians still occupying ‘Israeli’ land? This is the logic motivating the genocide.
The call for a Christian religious state in the US has long been a project of the American political right. It represents a direct rejection of the liberal principle of a secular state. And while the view here is that liberal principles are more marketing than substance, how would Mr. Biden’s supporters feel if he were to go about ridding the US of non-Christians? Or how about making them second class citizens and putting them into ghettoes to be surveilled, controlled, and when he feels like it, exterminated? Biden has pledged his soul to supplying Israel with the funding, weapons, and battlefield support to continue this exact program against Palestinians in Gaza.
The US is currently in social, cultural, economic, and political decline, and seems intent on taking the rest of the world down with it. Further national decline isn’t inevitable except to the extent that a major realignment of power is effectively precluded. ‘We’ had about fifteen minutes around 2008 – 2009 when the rich were a lot less rich and politicians were looking around at the carnage that Wall Street had wrought for a path forward. The rich and PMC perceived Mr. Obama’s political program to have been ‘successful’ for the very reasons that it wasn’t.
A successful program would have rebalanced power away from corporate executives, oligarchs, and their toadies in the political class to recover something like a New Deal. This would have been the ‘moderate’ path forward because it would have placed social, economic, and political stability above the neoliberal goal of making rich people richer. The MIC would no longer decide when the US goes to war. Wall Street would no longer be using public money to control the housing, food, and healthcare on which Americans are dependent. And one half of the country wouldn’t be trying to kill the other half, and vice versa.
Last, there is no slander of the (political) left contained herein. The slander relates to the American left, which now apparently includes the CIA, FBI, NSA, DNC and Joe Biden. I strongly support the work of Michael Hudson, Richard Wolff, Brian Becker, and the younger commenters who are foregoing to descriptor ‘left’ for the reasons stated above and more. ‘We’ are at a point in history when people will either engage politically or they should begin planning their own funerals. At the rate that history is accumulating, there may be no one left to bury the dead.