Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Populism: the natives are restless

Populism: A political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite.  American Heritage Dictionary

The state of the union is obstreperous. Dyspepsia is the new equilibrium. All the passion in American politics is oppositional. The American people know what they don't like, which is: everything.  Joel Achenbach - Washington Post
(...) I don't hate these guys because they're rich and went to fancy private schools. Hell, I'm rich and went to a fancy private school. I look at these people as my cultural peers and what angers me about them is that, with many coming from backgrounds similar to mine, these guys chose to go into a life of crime and did so in a way that is going to fuck things up for everyone, rich and poor, for a generation.  Matt Taibbi (hat to Mike Doyle)
David Seaton's News Links
Before trying to hack away at any of the Gordian knots of American politics, I'd like to use the Haitian crisis as a horribly simple, reductio ad absurdum, metaphor for some of the mechanisms at play.

A country in a strategic location not far from Cuba and Venezuela has been devastated. The poorest people have lost their homes, there are no jobs, no money, there is little to eat, the government has disappeared. The natives are obviously restless. The ruling elite, lighter skinned than the poorer majority of the citizens, live in undamaged gated communities in the mountains surrounding the capital. The rich are afraid that the poor will climb the mountains to take their food. The United States has thrown a naval and aerial blockade around the island and taken over the airport, carefully controlling who and what can enter and leave. Despite the massive desire of American citizens to help,  the official criteria of strictly controlling who can enter and leave the island obviously takes priority over aiding the population. As an example of this priority, here is an excerpt from an interview Amy Goodman did with Michael Moore:
(...) And this situation with the National Nurses Union, they went out to their membership. Who would be willing to go to Haiti right now? Over 11,000, almost 12,000 nurses—12,000 nurses—around this country have signed up, who are willing to go right now to Haiti. I don’t know if I heard it on your show last week or someplace else. You know, essentially one nurse could provide help for dozens of people. So just imagine if we could get 12,000 nurses there, with the necessary supplies, how many people could have been helped. I mean, this offer was made days and days ago. AMY GOODMAN: To whom? MICHAEL MOORE: To the Obama administration from the executive director of the National Nurses Union. She contacted the administration. She got put off. She had no response. Then they sent her to some low-level person that had no authority to do anything. And then, finally, she’s contacting me. And she says, “Do you know any way to get a hold of President Obama?” And I’m going, “Well, this is pretty pathetic if you’re having to call me. I mean, you are the largest nurses union. You are, I believe, one of the vice presidents of the AFL-CIO, of the main board of the AFL-CIO, and you can’t get a call in to the White House to get 12,000 nurses down there?"
The mechanism that I am trying to illustrate is that power's first and most elemental interest is to not lose control. This takes precedence over everything else when a situation deteriorates dramatically.

Obviously Haiti's suffering is starkly real and much of America's suffering is tinged with neurosis, but there is the similarity of people perceiving that the systems, institutions and the individuals that a society expects to guarantee the general welfare do not function. When this feeling is general, people lose respect for the power structure. Here is Thomas Wilson, chairman and CEO of Allstate Insurance Co. quoted by the  McClatcy Newspapers:
"Middle-class Americans just don't believe in the business community or the government, and they're pointing fingers at both of them. It's not just one of them. Half of the people don't trust corporations, unions or banks. If you ask them how do you think politicians are doing, 80 percent rank their politicians as fair or poor... I think that's a problem because in a free market and a democracy, you have to have people believing in institutions. This ought to be a wake-up call."
You might say, in referring to the American people, that in their case too, "the natives are restless".  When the power structure notices this sort of thing getting out of hand it tends to panic. A very graphic example of this is can be seen in the classic footage of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu's last speech on 21 December 1989. The look on his face when he sees that the people no longer fear him is one of the most uniquely powerful images of what losing the charisma of power really means. A few days after making this speech Ceaușescu was in front of a firing squad.

It is in this light that the Supreme Court of the United State's (SCOTUS) decision to remove all restraints and controls to corporate money's "investments" in American politics should be seen. I consider it nothing less than a coup d'etat. It is no longer "it can happen here" it is, "it has happened here".

In a short time terrified politicians will vote any law that domestic and foreign multinationals tell them to vote and however strange these laws may be SCOTUS will declare them perfectly constitutional and it will all be perfectly legal and democratic.

They are making this naked grab for power because they are afraid... The natives are restless.

The other day I read an article in the New Yorker about the Teabaggers. As the article paints it they appear to be a genuine movement of angry citizens, one which moneyed interests are trying to control for their own ends. This shouldn't be so difficult for us to understand as the same thing has happened to the movement that took Barack Obama to the White House. Up till now the only winner has been Wall Street.

Of course powerful interests are trying to get in front of the parade, but make no mistake, the people, both on the left and on the right, are genuinely pissed off.

As I see it both the disillusioned Obamites and the Teabaggers are chewing on the same problem from different angles. The left sees that the problems facing the nation: health, infrastructure, education, reviving the economy and protecting America's workers from having their jobs off-shored, will require government's massive intervention and that will require raising taxes, especially on the rich. The populist right, on the other want to reduce government's role to the minimum, cutting taxes to starve it into irrelevance because they see government as evil.

They are both right.

The only possible protection from the bottomless greed of the globalized multinationals, whose only reason to exist is to maximize profits, and who by doing so are destroying America's solid mass middle class way of life, is the state. And a state that it literally owned by those multinationals is worse than no state at all. So they are both right.

The United State's entire crisis in all its aspects; geopolitical, economic etc, comes out of the rot and corruption in the relation between America's behemoth corporations, which are in the control of a tiny minority of the population, and the political system accompanied by the media that facilitate this relationship. And my prediction, and it's an easy one, is that we are going to see some mighty curious things happening in the next few years. 'Curiouser and curiouser' as Alice said.

Without transparency and strict regulation in political financing, those of us who are politically active, both on  left and the right, are going to  be made fools of over and over again. Winning the campaign financing battle is the essential fight: until that war is won all the arguments between left and right are pure onanism and should be put aside till those reforms have been accomplished DS


Anonymous said...

Didn't Alice say "Curiouser and curiouser"?

Mike Doyle said...

Well said.

It's so obvious how the money dictates what happens in DC: "Wall St owns the place" as Sen Durbin said. Everyone knows it but you see so little discussion of it in the MSM.

Few weeks ago I attended a gathering of the local Tea Party crowd in Bucks County PA. It was a candidates night. They had 9 who want to run against our incumbent D who had displaced an R in 2006. There were around 750 people (one paper report said 1000!). They each answered a set of questions. It wasn't at all raucous, very orderly in fact, but yes, they're very, very angry at Washington - frequently named our Congressman & Pelosi & Obama like they're criminals.

Couple of things struck me: 1. they're angry at many things but they have no solutions that make any sense; e.g. tort reform and fixing medicare fraud would fix the problems in "the best h-c system in the world". If only the pols would follow the Constitution etc. 2. they want to shrink government, everything gov does is bad.

Yet as you point out it's only the government that has the power to protect citizen rights and rein in the laissez faire capitalists.

They mostly talk about "taking back America" - which came across to me as a yearning for some sort of Norman Rockwell America.

They ought to be looking to take back their government but I don't think they see it that way.

BTW Just read a great post sorta on topic at Matt Taibbi's blog

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

"Curiouser and curiouser"
You got me cold! I'm going to change it right now.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

Thanks for the great link.