Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age

02/07/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, June 24, 2016

History is written by the winners

– George Orwell, February 4, 1944

“The Few” v. “The Many”

Alexander Hamilton was no people’s champion. After four years serving as American Revolutionary War General George Washington’s chief of staff, Hamilton took up rhetorical and political arms against the egalitarian tendencies of the revolutionary times in which he lived. Viewing those tendencies and the new American republic’s popular classes with snooty contempt, he campaigned for a stronger central United States government run by and for men of great propertied wealth “whose principles are not of the levelling kind.” Like other top U.S. Founders and constitutional framers, Hamilton was revolted by the democratic sentiments of the new nation’s artisans, small farmers, and laboring classes. He looked with alarm at “unwise” democratic policies that had arisen in the colonies-turned-states during the American War for Independence.

Hamilton made his arch-classist sentiments clear in The Federalist Papers, which he penned in support of what became the U.S. Constitution along with James Madison and John Jay. In Federalist No. 35, Hamilton argued that the common people were incapable of serving in Congress and found their proper political representatives among the small class of wealthy merchant capitalists. “The idea of an actual representation of all classes of people by persons of each class,” Hamilton wrote, “is altogether visionary.” The “weight and superior requirements of the merchants render them more equal” than the “other classes,” Hamilton proclaimed. The “mechanics” (artisan workers) of his time, Hamilton argued, were “sensible that their habits in life have not been such as to give them those acquired endowments” required for “deliberative assembly.”

“Whether the representation of the people be more or less numerous,” Hamilton elaborated in Federalist No. 36, “it will consist almost entirely of proprietors of land, of merchants, and of members of the learned professions, who will truly represent all those different interests and view.”

Hamilton agreed with Jay that “those who own the country ought to govern it” – govern it in accord with their own specific class interests, sold as the general interest of “all classes of people.”

Hamilton also shared Madison’s belief, expressed in Federalist No. 10, that a geographically vast republic was superior to a small one because vast scale made it more difficult for the non-propertied and property-poor majority of people “to discover their strength and act in unison with each other” against their rightful masters. As Hamilton explained in Federalist No. 9, an “enlargement of the [geographic] orbit within which” the new US government operated would help “repress domestic factions and insurrection” and “guard the internal tranquility of States.” That was the merchant-capitalist aristo-republican language of the time for taking the egalitarian risk out of “representative democracy.”

The “popular government” champion Hamilton was not content to rely on geographic dispersal and other “soft” methods (constitutional checks and balances, the Electoral College, etc.) to keep the dangerous people at bay. Hamilton’s Federalist No 28 contained what the reactionary post-WWII U.S. political scientist Clinton Rossiter (who argued for the legitimacy of temporary “constitutional dictatorships” in the early Cold War era) lovingly called “Candid remarks on the role of force in maintaining civil society.” Here Hamilton advocated a strong national standing army, required, he felt, to suppress domestic rebellion. Since “seditions and insurrections are, unhappily, maladies as inseparable from the body politic as tumors and eruptions from the natural body,” Hamilton reasoned, “the idea of governing at all times by the simple force of law (which we have been told is the only admissible principle of republican government) has no place but in the reveries of those political doctors who sagacity disdains the admonitions of experimental instruction.” Translation: sometimes the ruling class needs to raise troops to discipline – shoot, hang, torture, maim and jail – the lower orders, (as during Shay’s Rebellion of 1786-87 and the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794).

At the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Hamilton argued that the U.S. presidency and Senate should come with life terms. He explained his underlying philosophy as follows:

All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well born, the other the mass of the people. The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second, and as they cannot receive any advantage by a change, they therefore will ever maintain good government. Can a democratic assembly, who annually revolve in the mass of the people, be supposed steadily to pursue the public good? Nothing but a permanent body can check the imprudence of democracy.”

It doesn’t get much elegantly anti-democratic than that.

For Hamilton and others of his “rich and well born” ilk in the Federalist Party of the 1790s (the Hamiltonian party), “Freedom rested on deference to authority…The Federalists,” distinguished U.S. historian Eric Foner notes, “may have been the only major party in American history forthrightly to proclaim that democracy and freedom dangerous in the hands of ordinary Americans.”

“Captain of the 1 Percent”

After the passage of the nation’s highly un- and even anti-democratic Constitution, Hamilton used his position as the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury to advance his program to make the United States a major commercial and military power ruled by and for an opulent mercantile, financial, and, he hoped, industrial elite. His proto-state-capitalist plan to fund the early Republic’s Revolutionary War debt involved the federal government assuming the debts of the thirteen states. The plan provided huge profits to investors who had bought bonds from desperate Revolutionary War veterans for as little as 10 cents on the dollar. This great windfall expanded the wealth and power of financial oligarchs who manipulated currency and credit on the backs of the young nation’s farmers, artisans, and laborers.

Another part of Hamilton’s grand fiscal plan was the creation of the first national Bank of the United States – a federally charted private corporation that Jefferson criticized with no small reason as a tool to make elite mercantile and financial few richer and more powerful at the expense of “the many.”

Hamilton was the early Republic’s “captain of the 1 Percent. A leader of finance capital…He represented,” the distinguished U.S. historian Gerald Horne notes, “the interests of big finance at the beginning of the United States. He personified the grievances that continue, and that the Sanders campaign, and, to a degree, the Trump campaign, have objected to.”

“What am I Going to Do With My Life”? Be Like Hamilton and Get Things Done

What are 21st century U.S. citizens who believe in democracy and social justice supposed to make of the spectacular success enjoyed by the Broadway musical Hamilton – Puerto Rican- American director Lin-Manuel Miranda’s powerful hip-hope dramatization of the arch-elitist Founder’s life? Miranda’s production (in which he plays Hamilton) is a stunning sensation and cultural phenomenon. It swept the recent Broadway Awards ceremony, leading some to called the Tony Awards the “Hamiltonys.” It helped keep Hamilton on the $10 bill, sparing him Andrew Jackson’s fate of currency exile.

Miranda has entertained his fan Barack Obama in the White House. Obama even cut a rap video in which the president held up cards with the following words for Miranda to freestyle off: Constitution, POTUS, Obamacare, the Federalist Papers, Innovation, Supreme Court, Immigration, Oval Office, and Opportunity.

Concerned that the musical’s magic not be limited to the privileged folks who can afford its pricey tickets, elite foundations have teamed up with the show’s producers to bring tens of thousands of mostly Black and Latino New York City schoolchildren to take it in. The educational collaboration was financed by more than $1 million in grants from the Rockefeller Foundation and with backing of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. A “P”BS Newshour report last month gushed over how “the biggest show on Broadway” gives students “a lesson in life and art” and “a better understanding of Alexander Hamilton’s accomplishments and place in history.” The musical was credited with making the stereotypically dry and boring subject of history newly exciting for public school students – with bringing historical subject matter to life. As a Latino student told the Newshour, “Anything with a hip hop, flavor to it, it’s definitely more interesting than opening a dusty history book and trying to, like, fish out old information.

Miranda told the Newshour that “Not every student who comes to see the show is gonna have a life in the theater. But they are gonna have to reckon with how much Hamilton got done in his life. And that is going to spark a little bit of, ‘Well, what am I gonna do with my life?’”

Well, damn, how about striving to rise into power to push through a bunch of clever policies for the rich and powerful?

A Bootstraps Epitome and an Abolitionist to Boot

In its gushing account of the collaboration between the musical production and New York City schools, “P”BS showed the Facing History School’s Advanced Placement history teacher Paul Zuppello talking to students about a study and rap performance project they were working up after viewing Hamilton. “What do you have to do to keep historical integrity?” Zuppello asked his “frenzied” students. “It’s okay to create a new situation,” Zuppello said, adding that “It’s not okay to change who that character is.”

Miranda’s Hamilton is a super-cool and highly talented immigrant from a broken family who was born out of wedlock in the West Indies and came to North America determined to achieve wealth and fame. He’s a “scrappy and hungry” newcomer and “self-made man” who wants to work hard and rise up in accord with the labor theory of value and the belief that (in the words of the musical’s top applause line) “Immigrants get the job done!” He’s a bootstraps epitome. Played by the effervescent Miranda, Hamilton is determined that he’s “Not Gonna Waste my Shot.” The show opens with the following rap narrative:

The ten-dollar founding father

Without a father

Got a lot farther

By working a lot harder

By being a lot smarter

By being a self-starter

By fourteen, they placed him

in charge of a trading charter.

The message is clear: work real hard and you too can “rise up” out of your lowly station to achieve wealth and greatness.

Deleting the Hero’s Deferential Underclass and Nativism

Along with the show’s highly skilled and distinctly multicultural cast and clever hip hop score, it’s easy to see how this storyline could be compelling for a large number of New York City students of color, many from foreign countries and broken, fatherless families. It helps that Hamilton was by the 1790s publicly opposed to slavery. Miranda lovingly compares Hamilton with his arch-rival Jefferson, who Miranda has Hamilton denounce as a “slaver” whose “debts are paid cuz you [Jefferson] don’t pay for labor.” The cool immigrant striver disdained the exploitation of slaves cuz real, true blue founders rise up on the basis of their own skills and labor and pay wages to workers.

But how would audiences respond if Miranda’s musical had honestly portrayed what the Cornell political scientists Jason Frank and Isaac Kramnick rightly call “Hamilton’s insistent and emphatic inegalitarianism…Just as Jefferson’s republican championing of the people’s liberties depended on a permanent underclass of slave laborers,” Frank and Kramnick add, “so [did] Hamilton’s commitment to the success of the entrepreneurial self-made man depend on the assumption that there would be a deferential underclass to do all the heavy work.”

Immigrant rights symbol? As Frank and Kramnick note, Miranda’s “lionization of Hamilton as the examplar of America’s immigrant ideal neglects his ultimate endorsement of the Alien and Sedition Acts, which made it harder to immigrants to become citizens while allowing their deportation if they were suspected for disloyalty…”

Valorizing Rich White Founders, Obfuscating Racism, and Blaming Victims

And just how anti-slavery was Hamilton? “Hamilton’s opposition to slavery,” Frank and Kramnick note, “was not central to his political vision. The musical’s suggestion that had he not been killed in the duel with Aaron Burr, Hamilton would have gone on to play an important role in the abolitionist struggle is fantasy.”

Miranda’s distortion of “who that character [Hamilton] is [was]” is worse than that, actually. Part of a wave of white flight from the slave rebellion-torn British Empire in the Caribbean, Hamilton married into a slaveholding New York family. As historian Michelle Duross notes, Hamilton sold and bought slaves “on behalf of his in-laws and as part of his assignment in the Continental Army. Miranda insults the historical record – available to those willing to (imagine) “open…a dusty history book and try…to, like, fish out old information” – by following the right-wing historian Forrest McDonald in falsely portraying Hamilton as a noble and unwavering abolitionist.

But that’s not the most egregious racial-historical offence in Miranda’s Broadway extravaganza, “In the musical,” notes Ishmael Reed, “black actors play Washington and other [slave-owning] founding fathers [including Jefferson]. Are [the show’s producers] aware that Washington is known for creating strategies for returning runaways? That he was into search and destroy when campaigning against Native American resistance fighters…Among the Iroquois, he was known as Conotocarious, or ‘Town Destroyer’…Historians, who serve as lackeys for famous, wealthy white mean term him a ‘merciful slave master.’ An oxymoron.,,Now I have seen everything,” Reed adds: “can you imagine Jewish actors in Berlin taking roles of Goering? Goebbels? Eichmann? Hitler?”

In an insightful critique titled “Why Hamilton is Not the Revolution You Think It Is” James McMaster notes how the musical’s “multiracial ensemble” ironically and darkly functions to obscure and cloak “the essential anti-blackness of the United States” past and present:

“As I write, the Black Lives Matter movement continues to ‘rise up’ against the essential anti-blackness of the United States. Progressive audiences seem to want to read Hamilton, complete with its multiracial ensemble, as a production that is politically copacetic with this contemporary racial revolution. However, in Hamilton, the fact that the white men that founded the United States – colonizers all, slaveholders some – are played by men of color actually obfuscates histories of racialized violence in the United States…Rather than aligning with the critiques leveled against the United States by contemporary leftist social movements such as Black Lives Matter, Hamilton’s valorization of the revolution of 1776 merely indulges in the fiction of a small, innocent, and oppressed group of young (implicitly white) men fighting for freedom against tyranny. Such a narrative resonates much too loudly with contemporary…the show’s narrative – made palatable and profitable both by these referential concessions and by the neoliberal imperative of racial diversity in casting – ultimately amounts to a valorization of the US nation-state and it’s juridical and financial systems, systems Alexander Hamilton helped to establish, and systems that have always functioned to the detriment of black and brown bodies despite what the musical might have us feel.”

Adding to the “valorization” of the American System, Hamilton’s “Bootstraps Immigrant Narrative” (McMaster) feeds Caucasian capitalism’s timeworn victim-blaming story line on why some few folks succeed in climbing up the nation’s steep racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic pyramids while most fail. As McMaster notes:

“The assertion…that Hamilton worked harder and was smarter, true or not, imply that other immigrants who have not experienced success in their new nation are somehow at fault. They either do not work hard enough or, simply, are not smart enough. Such logic neglects and obscures the material obstacles and violence (structural racism, predatory capitalism, long-burned bridges to citizenship) imposed on racialized immigrants within the United States in order to celebrate the (false) promise of the American dream and the nation-state. This is the familiar and fallacious narrative that founds the logic of mainstream, immigration-unfriendly politicians on the right (Trump’s wall) and on the left (Obama’s exceptional DREAMers) in the contemporary moment.”

“Our Revolution…the Father of Our Nation”

Reading McMaster’s critique, I was sadly reminded of Barack Obama’s first Inaugural Address. The first technically Black president in the land of slavery asked Americans to remember how “In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people: ‘Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”

It was disturbing to hear the nation’s first nonwhite president citing the white War for Independence as an example of how “we” Americans united against “one common danger.” The new republic’s snows and soils and forests and tobacco, rice, and cotton fields had long been stained with the blood and tears of Native Americans and black slaves. Many North American slaves, free blacks, and indigenous people found and acted on good reasons to favor the British over the colonists in the war between England and the rising new racist and settler-imperialist slave state. England, after all, had put some limits on the pace at which the North Americans could steal the land the ruin the lives of the nation’s original inhabitants and turn western frontiers into sites for the ruthless exploitation of enslaved blacks.  The British promised freedom to slaves who turned against their masters during the imperial settlers’ war of national slavery liberation. As Gerald Horne has shown, indeed, the “American revolution” was in fact a “counterrevolution” – a breaking off from England driven largely by ther4ich white Founders’ sense that North American Black chattel slavery would not survive the colonies’ continued subjection to London.

A Blunt Hamiltonian Lesson

McMaster’s and Horne’s critiques of Hamilton also remind me of Obama’s arch-neoliberal presidency of and for the 1 Percent. Staffed by Wall Street allies and insiders, the Dollar Obomber administration has played an actively regressive role in helping push the concentration of wealth and income to New Gilded Age levels that threaten to make the original Robber Baron era look vaguely egalitarian by comparison. Meanwhile Black Americans have suffered their biggest loss of net worth in U.S. history.

The liberal commentator William Greider captured the Hamiltonian essence of the Obama White House early on, in March 2009 editorial titled “Obama Asked Us to Speak But is He Listening?” Greider wrote at a critical moment. With Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and an angry, “pitchfork”-wielding populace at the gates, an actually progressive President Obama could have rallied the populace to push back against the nation’s concentrated wealth and power structures by moving ahead aggressively with a number of policies: a stimulus with major public works jobs programs; a real (single-payer) health insurance reform; the serious disciplining and even break-up or nationalization of the leading financial institutions; massive federal housing assistance and mortgage relief; and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have re-legalized union organizing in the U.S. But no such policy initiatives issued from the White House, which opted instead to give the U.S. people (Hamilton’s hapless but dangerous “many”) what Greider memorably called “a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t.” Americans “watched Washington rush to rescue the very financial interests that caused the catastrophe. They learned that government has plenty of money to spend when the right people want it. ‘Where’s my bailout,’ became the rueful punch line at lunch counters and construction sites nationwide. Then to deepen the insult, people watched as establishment forces re-launched their campaign for ‘entitlement reform’ – a euphemism for whacking Social Security benefits, Medicare and Medicaid.”

Americans also watched as Obama moved on to pass a health insurance reform (the so-called Affordable Care Act) that only the big insurance and drug companies could love, kicking the popular alternative (single payer “Medicare for All”) to the curb while rushing to pass a program drafted by the Republican Heritage Foundation and first carried out in Massachusetts by the arch 1 percenter Mitt Romney. As Obama later explained to some of his rich friends at an event called The Wall Street Journal CEO Council a month after trouncing Romney’s bid to unseat him: “When you go to other countries, the political divisions are so much more stark and wider. Here in America, the difference between Democrats and Republicans–we’re fighting inside the 40-yard lines…People call me a socialist sometimes. But no, you’ve got to meet real socialists. (Laughter.) You’ll have a sense of what a socialist is. (Laughter.) I’m talking about lowering the corporate tax rate. My health care reform is based on the private marketplace.” He might have added that his “health care reform” was dreamed up by Republicans, consistent with some of his elite supporters’ likening of the Obama White House to the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower.

It was “a touching ruling class moment. At a time of bitter partisan warfare in Congress and frequent mudslinging by business executives,” Danny Katch noted in Socialist Worker, “a bunch of CEOs were able to sit down with their president and realize that they really aren’t so different after all. Together, they shared a good laugh at the idea held by many ordinary people in both parties – that Obama and Corporate America are somehow on different sides.”

A Hamiltonian Project with a Racial Twist

It was all very consistent with Obama’s earlier, not-so- “outsider” history.  At the outset of his career in elected office in January of 1996, an unnamed Obama was properly identified by the Left and Black political scientist Adolph Reed, Jr. as “a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics….His fundamentally bootstrap line [is] softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program — the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance.”

Ten years later, the U.S. Senator and soon to be announced presidential candidate gave the Keynote Address at an event announcing the formation of the Democratic Party-linked Bookings Institution’s openly neoliberal, finance-capitalist think tank. The new body bore an interesting name: The Hamilton Project. In a column titled “Hamiltonian Democrats,” the Washington Post’s Harold Myerson nicely captured the Wall Street-friendly essence of the body to which Obama gladly lent his name and star power:

“The chief project to restate Democratic economics for our time was unveiled a couple of weeks ago, and it’s named after the father of American conservatism, Alexander Hamilton. … Hamilton feared the common people, dismissed their capacity for self-government and supported rule by elites instead…That might…deter most Democrats from naming their firstborn economic revitalization scheme after him, but the authors of the Hamilton Project are made of sterner stuff. They include Peter Orszag, an estimable Brookings Institution economist; investment banker Roger Altman, formerly of the Clinton Treasury department; and, chiefly, former Treasury secretary and current Citigroup executive committee Chairman Robert Rubin, whose iconic status within the Democratic mainstream has waxed as the median incomes of Americans under …have waned. Rubin has also become a seal of good housekeeping for Democratic candidates seeking money from Wall Street…Unfortunately, some of Hamilton’s disdain for democracy seeps into their statement as well. The problem of ‘entitlement imbalances is so large,’ they fret, ‘that the regular political process seems unlikely to produce a solution,’ so they recommend a bipartisan ‘special process’ insulated from popular pressures. They also place such traditional Republican boogeymen as teachers unions on the list of problems that need to be solved. On the other hand, their list of national problems includes nothing about a corporate and financial culture that richly and reflexively rewards executives who offshore work to cheaper climes and deny their American employees the right to join unions…much of their statement amounts to whistling by the globalization graveyard. The authors place great stress on improving American education – a commendable and unexceptionable goal, but one that may do little to retard the export of our jobs since, as they acknowledge, it’s increasingly the knowledge jobs that are going to India and even China. But then, Rubin was the guy who promoted both NAFTA and unfettered trade with China…There’s nothing in the statement about raising the minimum wage or mandating a living wage; the word ‘unions’ is nowhere to be found, though unionizing our non-offshorable service sector jobs is the surest way to restore the broader prosperity for which Rubin and his co-authors pine.”

The Hamilton Project’s spirit and personnel were written all over presidential candidate Obama’s economics team and his administration, which became a prolonged seminar “on power, who has it and who doesn’t” and on how “the government has plenty of money when the right people want on it.” It was a lesson that Hamilton would certainly have appreciated and indeed a lesson he sought to teach to unruly artisans and farmers and “unwise” champions of “imprudent” democracy in the early Republic.

Along the way Obama has provided an intimately related lesson on the uses of racialized ethnic identity politics in cloaking plutocracy and providing brilliant service to the nation’s unelected dictatorships of money, empire, class, and race. Functioning as a useful Orwellian history-distorting shill for Obama’s successful experiment in identity politicized, fake-progressive neoliberalism in its last year (with the arch-globalist Trans Pacific Partnership looming to achieve final, lame-duck approval to secure Obama’s Hamiltonian legacy), Miranda was certainly inspired to place Black actors in the roles of Thomas Jefferson and other elite and white, slave-owning Founding Fathers by the real-life 21st century example of the nation’s first merely half-white president serving as a rich, ruling class white man’s president and imperial commander.

“Deliberation and Circumspection” in Our Glorious “Free Market System”

Is it any wonder that “cool” Obama loves the musical, going so far as to cut a rap video with Miranda in the White House Rose Garden? Of course he does! Obama embraced Hamilton in his nauseating 2006 campaign book with the title stolen from the Black Chicago preacher (Jeremiah Wright) the candidate threw under the bus on the path to presidency. In The Audacity of Hope. Obama praised Hamilton for understanding that “republican self-government could actually work better in a large and diverse society, where, in Hamilton’s words, the ‘jarring of parties’ and differences of opinion could ‘promote deliberation and circumspection.’…we are confident,” Obama added, “in the fundamental soundness of the Founders’ blueprints and the democratic house that resulted.” Hamilton “understood” something else, Obama elaborated: “only through the liberation of capital from local landed interests could America tap into its most powerful resources – namely the energy and enterprise of the American people.” His hero Hamilton brilliantly “nationalized the Revolutionary War debt, which not only stitched together the economies of the individual states but helped spur a national system of credit and fluid capital markets.”

True, Obama admitted, capitalist development could bring some disturbing instabilities so that “the sense of common kinship becomes harder to maintain. Jefferson was not entirely wrong to fear Hamilton’s [commercial and capitalist] vision for the country.” But “not entirely wrong” is the same as “mostly wrong” and, as Obama explained, the capitalism that Hamilton helped created produced a “business culture” that created “a prosperity that’s unmatched in human history…Our greatest asset,” Obama proclaimed, “has been our system of social organization…our free market system.”

Never mind that Hamilton felt that policy deliberation belonged entirely in the hands of the privileged few or that the republicanism embraced by Hamilton and the other Great White Founders was fundamentally opposed to popular sovereignty, that is to democracy – their ultimate nightmare. Never mind that the Founders’ blueprint was consciously meant and successfully designed to promote the rule of the propertied elite. Never mind that Hamilton’s Funding and Assumption plan was a device for the upward concentration of wealth in the hands of opulent investors. Or that that early Republic’s racial “diversity” (if that’s one what we want to call it) derived largely from the highly profitable capitalist perversity of Black chattel slavery. And never mind the long and terrible list of capitalism’s many terrible consequences at home and abroad, including an abject corporate-financial plutocracy that sits quite properly atop a political economy in which the top 1 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent while 22 percent of U.S. children, including 38 percent of Black children and 36 percent of Native American children, live below the federal government’s scandalously inadequate poverty level. Meanwhile the investor class’s growth-addicted profits system pushes livable ecology to dangerous new tipping points, raising the real threat of human extinction in the not so distant future.

“A Decent Shot”

Obama has long embraced the bourgeois bootstraps narrative that celebrates the United States as the land that supposedly rewards hard and smart work and qualifies its belief in equality by tying it to supposedly decent opportunities (Miranda’s “my shot”) for all – not to a dreaded levelling of outcomes and rewards. In the reactionary American Exceptionalist 2004 Democratic Convention speech that turned him into an overnight national and global sensation, Obama launched into one of his favorite nationally and personally narcissistic and bourgeois themes. He hailed America as the ultimate “beacon of freedom and opportunity” for those who exhibit “hard work and perseverance” and laid claim to personally embodying the great American Horatio-Algerian promise. “My story” – one of a rise from (supposedly) humble origins to Harvard Law School and national political prominence – “is part,” Obama claimed “of the larger American story…In no other country on Earth,” he said, “is my story even possible.”

Obama quoted the famous Thomas Jefferson line about all “men” being “created equal,” but left out Jefferson’s warnings about the terrible impact of unequal outcomes on democracy and popular government. He advocated a more equal rat-race, one where “every child in America has a decent shot at life, and the doors of opportunity [the word “opportunity” recurred at least five times in his speech] remain open to all.”

In reality those doors aren’t weren’t remotely close to being “open to all” in the summer of 2004. America didn’t score particularly well in terms of upward mobility measures, compared to other industrialized states (and Brazil’s current chief executive was born into that country’s working-class). Things haven’t gotten considerably worse since, reflecting the continuing and remarkable upward concentration of wealth, income and opportunity under Bush43’second term and across Obama’s two terms.

Every kid deserves “a decent life,” not just “a shot” at one. Serious and principled opponents of class, race, ethnic, gender, and national oppression oppose social inequality in and of itself. The massive socioeconomic disparities that scar American and global life would be offensive to them – and supremely damaging to democracy and the common good in their view – even if all at the top of the pyramid had risen to their positions from an equal position at the starting line of a “level playing field.” There is no such field in really existing society, but the creation of such an equal beginning would not make it any less toxic and authoritarian for 1 percent of the U.S. population to own more than wealth than the bottom 90 percent.

A Perfect Wrap

Obama no doubt identifies strongly with Miranda’s Hamilton. The product of a broken family and a foreign father he hardly knew, the President fancies himself a shining example of what a highly talented, hard-working “outsider” can accomplish if they apply themselves and their skills so as not to blow their “shot” at success in the supposed great American land of opportunity that the holy Founders purportedly bequeathed to us with their glorious “free market” system. Obama has given Black high school and college graduates and other minority audiences stern Booker T. Washingtonian bootstrap lectures on hard work and the promise of upward mobility on numerous occasions, citing himself as an example that anything is possible for dutiful toilers. He has also aligned himself in the public mind with immigrants, posing as the friend of Dreamers who want to “play by the rules” of American striving.

Never mind the special backing he’s helped the federal government give to the already opulent financial elites who crashed the U.S. and global economy only to emerge yet more obscenely and parasitically wealthy than before the Great Recession thanks to the Hamiltonian support absurdly granted them by the likes of George W. Bush, Hank Paulsen, Barack Obama, Ben Bernanke, Larry Summers, and Timothy Geithner et al. Never mind that Booker T. Obama’s success always depended on his service to the wealthy white and parasitic Few – his leading backers – or the record number of immigrants the Deporter-in-Chief has expelled from the country.

Miranda’s Hamilton is in this sense a perfect cultural wrap up to the ugly neoliberal Obama years. It is a brilliant ahistorical monument to Orwellian, fake-progressive bourgeois identity politics in service to the very predominantly Caucasian financial elite and ruling class hegemony. Before getting too excited about this power-serving accomplishment, however, Miranda might want to reflect on a critical difference between the One Percent of Alexander Hamilton’s time and the One Percent of Barack. Prior to the onset of the neoliberal era in the 1970s, Noam Chomsky told Occupy Boston in the fall of 2011, the United States “had been, with ups and downs…a developing society, not always in pretty ways, but with general progress toward industrialization, prosperity and expansion of rights.” Since the triumph of finance capital, however, it’s been primarily about “de-development…a significant shift of the economy from productive enterprise – producing things people need or could use – to financial manipulation.” Is it any wonder that millions upon millions of the onetime working people rendered obsolete and useless – “surplus Americans” – and trying desperately to scrape by in the vacuum created by the neoliberal age of globalization are less than rapturous about the influx of immigrants that is purportedly celebrated in Hamilton, a liberal-celebrated musical that some rich Manhattan residents and tourists are paying more than $3000 per seat to attend? 

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

Deleting the Real Story Behind the Great Canada Fire

22/06/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, June 16, 2016

Deletion and de-contextualization are standard instruments in the corporate U.S. media’s propagandistic, power-serving toolbox. The nightly news streams endless terrifying images of violent inner city Black criminality with no reference the savage jobless poverty imposed on the Black community by contemporary state-capitalist race-class apartheid. The typical white suburban news viewer is thereby encouraged to conclude that urban people of color are a mass of dangerous barbarians best handled with mass arrest and incarceration.

Nightly weather reporters regularly relay new heat, drought, rain, and snowfall records along with epic floods, unprecedented tornado and hurricane waves, and other extreme meteorology. They do so without reference to the anthropogenic – really capital-o-genic – global warming that lay behind the new planetary conditions. The mass viewing audience is encouraged to conclude that Mother Nature is going off on its own – with no assistance from the human-made Greenhouse Effect cooked up by modern capitalism and Big Carbon.

The national news blares horrifying footage of terror, violence, and “anti-Americanism” in Africa and the Middle East without reference to the role of the giant U.S. military empire in wreaking colossal, criminal, and mass-murderous destruction (with help from powerful allies like England, France, Israel, and the Saudi kingdom) in those lands. (No such destructive criminality can ever be acknowledged in dominant U.S. mass media, which doctrinally portrays Uncle Sam as an inherently noble, benevolent, and humanistic actor on the global stage.) The typical U.S. news consumer is incited to conclude that these parts of the world are chock full of bloodthirsty, Islamist lunatics who “hate us for no good reason.” Send in the drones, gunships, bombers, and special forces!

In the summer of 2014, U.S. corporate media gave spectacular coverage to the flood of “unaccompanied minors” fleeing abject poverty and endemic violence in Central America to the United States through Mexico. There was no reference in this reporting to the central and ongoing historical role of the United States in devastating El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras and thus in creating the extreme misery that drove parents to send children on perilous northward journeys. U.S. news-watchers were encouraged to see the child migrants as unworthy of decent treatment from the United States.

Sometimes the failure to make basic contextualizing connections and the doctrinal practice of deletion reaches a level that seems almost beyond belief. I sat stunned while one broadcast news outlet after another reported on the historic, climate change-driven wildfire that razed much of the Canadian town of Fort McMurray and northern Alberta to the ground last month. None of the broadcasts dared to craft the obvious story connection begging to be made between the epic blaze and the large-scale extraction of tar sands oil in that region.

It was a remarkable story NOT to report. The fire took off and spread thanks to record-setting heat (into the low Fahrenheit 90s) that reflected a pronounced regional warming trend evident for years. Under the influence of climate change resulting from the excessive extraction, sale, and burning of fossil fuels, the northern latitudes are warming faster than anywhere else. One of the consequences is that North American wildfire seasons are getting bigger, fiercer, and longer than ever.

At the same time, to complete the story left out, Fort McMurray is a boomtown with rising population and business driven primarily by the extraction of exceptionally carbon-rich Canadian tar sands oil. The fire-ravaged town is smack in the heart of one of the world’s leading centers of planet-baking oil extraction. It sits beneath the Athabasca Oil Sands, whose “dirty [filthy carbon-rich] oil” is extracted on a giant, Earth-warming scale by great Big Carbon firms including Syncrude, Suncor Energy, CNRL, Shell, and Nexen.

The Alberta tar sands region is home to some of the most carbon-rich, planet-cooking fossil fuels on Earth. Alberta’s vast oil sands are the world’s third-largest crude reserves. Environmental concerns about the mining of those reserves were the main reason that climate activists like Bill McKibben engaged in high-profile protests of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline – a leading news story a few years ago.

The Canada fire story wrote itself, it would have seemed. Imagine the following obvious and reasonable headline: “Nearly 100,000 Flee Planet-Warming Oil Town – Mother Nature Uses Raging Inferno to Tell Canada and Humanity to Break Free From Fossil Fuels.”

In reality, no such headline had a snowball’s chance in Hell of making it into print in “mainstream” (corporate and commercial) U.S. media, which is intimately bound up with the vast, many-sided carbon-industrial complex.

What did appear in leading “mainstream” media was quite different from what any serious investigator concerned for the fate of a livable Earth would have known to be real story and hook behind the Canadian fire. Below I discuss the fire’s coverage in print and online corporate media. I pay special attention to the United States’ leading newspaper, the purportedly arch-liberal and even (the FOX News right would preposterously have Americans believe) left-wing The New York Times and add some critical (actually left and environmentalist) commentary on the depressing determination of “mainstream” reporters (and/or their editors) to omit the most relevant and urgent point.

“Forces of Nature Again Firefighters”

An early New York Times report, for example, was titled “Forces of Nature Against Firefighters Around Fort McMurray” (May 5th). Blaming the destruction on “strong, shifting winds,” Times reporter Fernanda Santos quoted a “senior disaster management response manager” on how “forces of nature we cannot control” had plagued firefighters. Santos cited an emergency commander who told the Times that “Mother Nature has conspired against us on multiple fronts.”

The article began with the following sentence: “The Alberta fire department said it would be a couple more days before investigators would be able to determine whether the fire there was caused by people or lightning.” The phrase “by people” referred to the chance that some human individual or group provided the immediate spark with, say, a campfire, not to the giant carbon-industrial complex that has been heating the planet to a treacherous degree for many decades.  Santos and/or her editor(s) did not see it as news worth printing that the “forces of nature” in question bore the clear and obvious, scientifically proven imprint of human-/capitalism-generated carbon emissions, fueled in no small part by the mining, refining, sale and burning of super-toxic, hyper-potent tar sands oil.

“One of the Largest Human Outposts in the Boreal Forest”

The Times’ editors knew that human-driven climate change was a factor in the Canadian fire, of course. A May 10tt article by the Times’ leading climate reporter Justin Gillis and Henry Fountain was cautiously titled “Global Warming Cited as Wildfires Increase in Fragile Boreal Forest.” Gillis and Fountain wrote that “the near destruction of Fort McMurray by a wildfire” was “the latest indication that the boreal forest is at risk from climate change.” They included the burning of fossil fuels alongside other factors – logging, insects, and inadequate emergency fire services – that were threatening the great sub-Arctic swath of woodlands stretching from Canada and Alaska into Russia.

Remarkably and revealingly enough, however, Gillis and Fountain never mentioned the planet-cooking industry that turned Fort McMurray into a boom town. They referred to Fort McMurray only as “a Canadian city” and as “one of the largest human outposts in the boreal forest.”

Both descriptions were accurate but they left something out: the “human outpost’s” core connection to one of the world’s largest and most toxic centers of human-generated, fossil-fueled climate-change.

Concerns About Supplies, Not Livable Ecology

To be sure, there was considerable business news reporting on one aspect of the relationship between the Canadian fire and oil sands production above Fort McMurray – on how the fire threatened that production and hence “economic growth.” A May 8th Reuters report was titled “Oil Sands Fared Well Through Canada Fire, But Restart a Challenge.” It discussed the oil sands industry but omitted the climate issue, treating the fire in purely short-term, bottom-line economic terms. Reuters’ correspondents Jessica Resnick Ault and Liz Hampton stuck obediently to relating how the disruption of the oil sands’ labor supplies and production, leading to an increase in oil prices:

“The mass evacuation of residents from the wildfire-devastated Canadian oil town of Fort McMurray is likely to significantly delay the restart of production, even though energy facilities themselves have escaped major damage from the flames, oil prices jumped in early Asian trading on concerns over the loss of production capacity caused by the fire – equivalent to around half of the country’s oil sands production.”

“…A prolonged shutdown will heighten concerns about supplies after three major oil firms warned on Friday they won’t be able to deliver on some contracts for Canadian crude…Only one oil sands production site, CNOOC unit Nexen’s Long Lake facility, has sustained minor damage, and provincial fire officials said on Sunday they expected to hold flames back from Suncor Energy Inc’s main oil sands plant north of Fort McMurray….The fire has shut down about 1 million barrels per day or 40 percent of total oil sands production.”

Reuters deleted the obvious scientifically demonstrated connection between oil extraction (including oil sands extraction) and the conditions that gave rise to the fire that interrupted oil sands production. Those are matters that (un)naturally hold no interest to good capitalist journalists who know to stick responsibly to nothing but the basic business facts.

It was unthinkable, of course, that Ault and Hampton might have conveyed environmentalists’ reasonable sense that a 40 percent reduction in tar sands oil extraction was a good thing for human beings and other living things.

“Staggering Blow to Economy,” Not Earth

Similar in its indifference to capital’s environmental arch-criminality and that criminality’s relationship to the Great Canadian Wildfire of 2016 was a May 11th New York Times report titled “Canada Fire Deals Staggering Blow to Oil Sands Industry and Economy.” Times reporter Ian Austen discussed the epic, capital-o-genically fueled blaze purely as a story about markets, production infrastructure, “global growth,” and fuel prices – really (though Austen could not say so) about profits:

“As the fire ripped through Fort McMurray, oil companies severely pulled back or stopped pumping altogether… While the oil markets have remained relatively stable and production is slowly picking up, the economic blow is significant to a region and a country already battered by weak oil prices and uncertainty over global growth…The full toll will depend largely on the health of the oil sands. The largest projects, north of Fort McMurray have been largely unscathed, protected in part by their wide, deforested perimeters…But oil companies are still assessing the damage to the electrical network, the aboveground buildings and the pipelines that ship Fort McMurray’s production. Then there is the complex nature of the projects, which means that oil will not necessarily start flowing again quickly.”

“The status of smaller plants, which are largely south of the city, is less clear…The southern plants, for the most part, bring the tarlike bitumen of the oil sands to the surface by injecting vast quantities of steam underground. Plants of that variety, like Japan Canada Oil Sands, have been operating for several years and have built up so much heat underground they can sit idle for up to 12 months and be restarted with comparative ease…The global oil markets are sensitive to that timeline. Goldman Sachs estimates that the lost production, assuming companies can ramp up production over 10 days, will total 14 million barrels. If so, that would have a relatively minor impact on North American stockpiles, which are nearly full” (emphasis added).

So what if oil extraction on the rapacious and reckless scale funded by the likes of Goldman Sachs puts livable ecology and a decent future at grave and ever more imminent risk? So what if tar sands oil is among the most carbon-rich fossil fuels that need to be kept underground if we are to avert environmental catastrophe? So what if the healthiest thing would be for the oil sands to be shut down? Who cares? “Global growth” – and the world petro-capitalist profit rate – must march on!

The “full toll” of the Canada fire includes the exacerbation of global warming, for the burning and vast boreal forest destruction become causes as well as consequences of climate change. But that is a matter of no concern to responsible business journalists.

“A Minimal Impact on Canadian Economic Growth”

The Wall Street Journal was less alarmist about threats to carbon-spewing capitalist growth four days earlier. In a May 7th article titled “Canada Wildfires Raise Threat to Oil-Sands Mining Operations,” the WSJ’s Chester Dawson noted that Suncor had “closed down production of 300,000 barrels of oil a day at two mines and a pair of oil-sands well sites, and its Syncrude unit has shut its 350,000-barrel-a-day-capacity mines.”   But such (supposedly terrible) developments (welcome for anyone who cares about livable ecology) were nothing for planet-baking investors to get too upset about. For, as Dawson reported:

“The outages are expected to have a minimal impact on Canadian economic growth, according to a report from the Conference Board of Canada released early Tuesday. The Ottawa think tank bases its findings on an estimated oil-production loss of about 1.2 million barrels a day over a two-week period…The Conference Board’s findings are based on information available before the latest evacuations. The latest setback could result in a ‘bigger [production] hit’ in May, but the industry will likely make up that lost output in June, assuming operations resume, said Pedro Antunes, the Conference Board’s deputy chief economist. Similarly, efforts to rebuild the oil-sands region will help to offset the decline in economic growth caused by the fires, Mr. Antunes said.”

That was good to know! It’s a shame that carbon-driven climate change is creating an environmental disaster that has emerged as the biggest issue of our or any time – a catastrophe that raises the not-so distant prospect of human extinction. Thanks to fossil-fueled anthropogenic global warming, the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado reports that we may have come to “the starting point when melting permafrost begins a likely irreversible release of 190 gigatons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere…Thawing permafrost is threatening to overwhelm attempts to keep the planet from getting too hot for human survival. Without major reductions in the use of fossil fuels, as much as two-thirds of the world’s gigantic storehouse of frozen carbon could be released…this might be irreversible.”

The northern latitudes are aflame like no time in recorded historical memory. But hey, Canadian economic growth will march on. And disasters often bring capitalist investment and growth opportunities, including rebuilding!

A Close Call

There had, however, been a close call. By Dawson’s account, “Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said the fires approached the doorstep of oil-sands mines operated by industry leader Suncor Energy Inc. (SU -2.64 %) and its subsidiary Syncrude north of the town of Fort McMurray, which the blaze devastated this month. Provincial government officials said by late Tuesday firefighters succeeded in halting the advance of the flames to the south and west perimeters of those facilities, and that weather conditions were expected to help slow the spread of the fires later this week.”

What a shame it would have been if “the forces of nature” had claimed some of the most eco-cidal, life-gassing production facilities on Earth!

“A Loss of Production”

Things got scary again in Canada for Big Carbon in following days. A May 17th New York Times report was titled “Fort McMurray Wildfire Upends Plan to Restart Oil Sands Operations.” Times reporter Ian Austen noted that “Rapidly changing winds brought Alberta’s huge wildfire to the perimeter of two of the oldest and largest of Canada’s oil sands complexes on Tuesday, posing a new threat to an industry that just a day earlier had been preparing to resume full-scale operations.” The blaze was “now close to the Syncrude and Suncor oil sands plants” and threatened “to enter the open pit mines where gigantic excavators scoop up tar like bitumen and place it in similarly oversize dump trucks…” Austen reported the Conference Board of Canada’s calculation that “14 days of shutdown would mean a loss of production valued at 985 million Canadian dollars, about $762 million.”

How horrible. Never mind that reduced tar sands oil production is a positive for life’s ever-slimming chances of decent survival in an ever hotter and more volatile and uninhabitable world that carbon-addicted capital made.

So it’s not true that reporters made no connection between the Great Canada Fire of May 2016 and the Canadian tar sands oil industry. But the connection went one capitalist and extractivist way. It was all about how the fire, treated as a purely natural disaster, was interfering with oil sands production. The fact that oil sands production is a key part of the planetary carbon-industrial-complex that creates the climatological context for such fires as the one that nearly destroyed the oil sands boom town Fort McMurray was irrelevant as far as “mainstream” journalists were concerned.

Meanwhile, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii reports that the global concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – the leading force behind recent climate change – has reached 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in recorded history. Levels that high have only been reached during the Pliocene era. According to Dr. Erika Podest, a leading carbon and water cycle research scientist, “This milestone is a wake-up call that our actions in response to climate change need to match the persistent rise in CO2. Climate change is a threat to life on Earth and we can no longer afford to be spectators.”

By all means let’s “resume full-scale operations” in the Canadian tar sands!

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)


A Debasing Spectacle: Behind and Beyond the Latest Quadrennial Carnival

20/06/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, June 10, 2016

I spoke last April at San Diego State University about what two clever Left political scientists there rightly called “the debasing spectacle” of the 2016 presidential election. I was asked to address four and excellent, thought-provoking questions, each of which are highlighted in boldface in the essay below, followed by my latest and best answers (updated for subsequent developments) in somewhat extensive written form. The questions: (1) What is the state of American democracy today? (2) What is the role of the two major U.S. parties? (3) What impact are Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders having on the party system? (4) What is the way forward?

What is the State of American Democracy Today?

Oligarchy: “Those Who Rule America Behind the Scenes”

It’s a f$#$*ng joke (I’m sorry but I don’t know any other way to honestly put it). Seven years ago, the left scholars Edward S. Herman and David Peterson noted in passing that “an unelected dictatorship of money vets the nominees of the Republican and Democratic parties, reducing the options available to U.S. citizens to two candidates, neither of whom can change the foreign or domestic priorities of the imperial U.S. regime.” A year before that, the incisive Left historian Laurence Shoup explained things well in Z Magazine:

“Every four years many Americans put their hopes in an electoral process, hopes that a savior can be elected – someone who will make their daily lives more livable, someone who will raise wages, create well-paying jobs, enforce union rights, provide adequate health care, rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, and end war and militarism. In actuality, the leading ‘electable’ presidential candidates have all been well vetted by the hidden primary of the ruling class and are tied to corporate power in multiple ways. They will stay safely within the bounds set by those who rule America behind the scenes, making sure that members of the plutocracy continue to be the main beneficiaries of the system…It is clear that, at best, U.S. ‘democracy’ is a guided one; at its worst it is a corrupt farce, amounting to manipulation, with the larger population objects of propaganda in a controlled and trivialized electoral process” (emphasis added).

These are standard and supposedly cynical observations on the actual/radical Left but you don’t have to be a Left radical to think that popular sovereignty is trumped by plutocracy in the U.S. today. Jimmy Carter, no radical leftist, has been saying for years that the United States no longer has a functioning democracy. Donald Trump, certainly not a leftist, and Bernie Sanders, a longstanding liberal-left Democrat who plays a “revolutionary” on the campaign trail, both say that American democracy is broken by big money campaign donations.

Mike Lofgren, a long-time top Republican congressional aide, writes that The Deep State of corporate and financial power merged to the military industrial complex calls the shots behind “the marionette theater” of electoral and “parliamentary” politics in the U.S.

Mark Leibovich is the New York Times Magazine’s chief national correspondent and a self-described elite Washington insider. Three years ago, he published the widely read book This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral Plus Plenty of Valet Parking in America’s Gilded Capital. By his candid and bestselling account from the belly of the beast, Washington D.C. is a richly bipartisan and monumentally narcissistic “gold rush,” a “crucible of easy wealth” (p. 8) wherein political officeholders, lobbyists, consultants, public relations specialists, media personalities, socialites, and top staff of the two dominant parties are part of the same incestuous and “permanent” ruling “class of insiders.” The nation’s capital “becomes a determinedly bipartisan team when there is money to be made” (p.142) – an “inbred company town where party differences are easily subsumed by membership in The Club” (p. 104), Leibovich wrote. “Getting rich,” Leibovich reported, “has become the great bipartisan ideal: ‘No Democrats and Republicans in Washington anymore,’ goes the maxim, ‘only millionaires.’ The ultimate Green party. You still hear the term ‘public service’ thrown around, but often with irony and full knowledge that self-service is now the real insider play” (p. 9).

The leading mainstream political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern argued less than two years ago that the U.S. political system has become “an oligarchy” where wealthy elites and their corporations “rule.” Examining data from more than 1,800 different policy initiatives in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Gilens and Page find that wealthy elites consistently steer the direction of the country regardless of and against the will of the U.S. majority and irrespective of which major party holds the White House and/or Congress. “The central point that emerges from our research,” Gilens and Page find, “is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy…while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” As Gilens told the online journal Talking Points Memo two years ago, “ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States.” (That’s what Joe and Jane Six Pack have always known, but it’s nice to hear it with data from Princeton and Northwestern).

Such is the harsh reality of “really existing capitalist democracy” in the U.S. —what Noam Chomsky calls “RECD, pronounced as ‘wrecked.’”

Capitalism v. Democracy

Now, you won’t hear mainstream American politicos and intellectuals acknowledge that the United States has never actually been a democracy. You won’t see them noting that popular self-rule was the last thing the United States’ rich and powerful Founding Fathers ever wanted to see break out in the merchant-capitalist aristo-republic they crafted – or that the U.S. Constitution was brilliantly designed precisely to protect elite property rights and to keep popular sovereignty at bay.

You also won’t see mainstream U.S. authorities and experts admit that democracy is essentially impossible under capitalism. You won’t hear them quote the great American philosopher John Dewey prophesizing 85 years ago that U.S. politics would remain “the shadow cast on society by big business” as long as power resided in “business for private profit through private control of banking, land, industry, reinforced by command of the press, press agents, and other means of propaganda.”

“We must make our choice,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in 1941. “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.” You won’t see mainstream U.S. thinkers make observe that Brandeis’s comment (unwittingly or not) admitted the anti-democratic essence of capitalism, which functions by definition to concentrate wealth upward into the coffers of an opulent minority.

Another thing you won’t hear about conventional U.S. thinkers is the militantly undemocratic authoritarianism of the capitalist workplace, where most working-age Americans spend the lions’ shared of their waking and “productively engaged” lives. As the Marxist economist Richard Wolff reminds us, “What remains the same across all…forms [of capitalism]…is the exclusion of the mass of workers that produces the output and generates the profits from receiving and distributing that profit, and from generally participating democratically in enterprise decisions. Capitalism excludes workers from deciding what is produced, how it is produced, where it is produced and how profits are to be used and distributed.” How can you have a democratic society without the democratic organization of work, the central shared daily experience of most U.S. adults and a quintessential human activity?

In the U.S. as in other capitalist societies, the authoritarian impact of the employer-employee relationship extends to life off the job. The long and often exhausting hours many wage- and salary-earners rent away to the employer class in order to purchase life necessities (and more) robs them of the free time and energy required for informed and effective engagement in public affairs. Fear of antagonizing employers and thereby losing one’s job (or promotion or job benefit) blocks “free speech” beyond as well as within the workplace. In the U.S., with its employment-based system of health insurance, workers put their health insurance and often that of their families at risk by doing or saying anything that displease their bosses. Employment-based health insurance is also a significant driving factor behind the United States’ remarkably long working hours (the most extensive among the world’s rich nations). (It’s amazing how little attention the many-sided authoritarian impact of employment-based health coverage and the related problem of overwork receive from left U.S. intellectuals and activists.)

All these critical omissions notwithstanding, it’s still useful and instructive to see privileged elites like Jimmy Carter, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders join mainstream academicians like Gilens and Page in recognizing that “the world’s greatest democracy” is actually an abject plutocracy.

What is the Role of the Two Major U.S. Political Parties?

Seven Class Rule Functions

Going back to the rise of the first mass parties in the United States, the two major U.S. parties (and it’s always been two such parties under the American system, with some very partial and short-lived exceptions) have at bottom been institutional mechanisms for capitalist class rule. They perform seven basic functions for the nation’s owning investor class.

Dressing Elite Interests in Commoner Garb

The first function has been to rally supporters organized as voters for different factions of the elite bourgeois class in its recurrent intra-capitalist policy struggles. Across much of the 19th century, some leading U.S. capitalist economic and political investors sought to advance their interests in the development of the domestic U.S. market and a manufacturing economy by pushing through an “American System” of government-subsidized internal improvements (transportation infrastructure above all), government central banks, and tariffs on imports. These capitalists tended to align with and fund the Whig Party and its anti-slavery successor the Republican Party. More export-, agricultural-, and free trade-oriented investors aligned with funded the Democratic Party. All of these capitalist parties made recurrent feverish electoral appeals to mass constituencies in the name of “the common man” to win votes in a republic with comparatively wide (universal white male across most of the nation by the eve of the Civil War) suffrage. The competing bourgeois parties needed to “masquerade as commoners” (in the words of the late and great U.S. historian Alfred F. Young) to put in elected office politicians pledged to their funders’ policy agenda.

Policy specifics and party alignments have since shifted more than once in accord with underlying political-economic and demographic factors. Still, the basic manipulative reality captured in Left political scientist Thomas Ferguson’s “investment theory of [U.S. two-] party competition” has continued throughout. During the 1930s and 1940s, Ferguson has shown, the labor-allied New Deal (Franklin Roosevelt) Democratic Party rose to power with critical support from highly capital intensive multinational corporations and internationally oriented investment banks who were less concerned about wage bills than the more nationally oriented, anti-union, and protectionist industrial firms that dominated the reigning (Teddy Roosevelt, William McKinley and Howard Taft) Republican Party at the turn of the 20th century. The end of rapid growth and of the United States’ short-lived and near-absolute post-World War II global economic hegemony the late 1960s produced inflation and a growing fiscal and trade deficits, leading to sharply raised interest rates, a strengthened dollar, and an unprecedented flow of surplus capital from industry to finance. The resulting new finance capital explosion transformed the American party system, which stabilized around 1980 with finance as the “hegemonic bloc” of political as well as economic investors. With the arch-neoliberal Clinton presidency of the 1990s, big finance capital had clearly taken over the Democratic Party as well as the Republicans, along with most of the nation’s nonfinancial corporations.

There have been differences in the investor class profiles of the two dominant parties through this century, with (for example) “defense” (military) and oil and other Big Carbon firms tilting towards the Republicans and Silicon Valley and Hollywood tilting towards the Democrats. Beneath such differences, the 1% is united in neoliberal consensus across both parties around Wall Street-led globalization and a huge Pentagon System to expand and protect global finance capitalism. Both the Republicans and the Democrats are committed to the neoliberal world-capitalist and imperial order, with big finance calling the shots while unions, the working class, and the poor are relegated to the margins. Under the bipartisan ruling class and extreme-capitalist consensus, wealth and power concentrate on a scale that threatens to make the original Gilded Age look egalitarian by comparison.

Both parties play the game that Christopher Hitchens called (in his 1999 book on the Clintons) “the essence of America politics…the manipulation of populism by elitism.” They play it in different ways, with the Republicans taking the darker “bad cop” road of nativism, racism, white nationalism, hyper-masculinist sexism, more resonant in southern and Western “red state America.” The more urban, urbane, multicultural, and bi-coastal “blue state” Democrats pose as the “nicer cop” liberal and “progressive” alternative while their policies the wealth corporate and financial no less than do those of the official rich white man’s party, Republicans. The “dismal Dems” deceptive “left” branding and multicultural branding make the Democrats the arguably “more effective evil” (Glen Ford) in the two party regime.

Behind the Wizard of Oz curtain and “marionette theater” (Lofgren) of U.S. electoral and parliamentary politics, the nation’s finance-led investor class finds it useful to have two, not just one party in play. With the financial crisis of 2007-08 – the “crisis of neoliberalism” (really just the latest big capitalist financial meltdown) – the moneyed elite’s sharpest political investors deftly shifted allegiance from the Republicans to the Democrats. Behind the elite-managed rebranding (which earned the Obama campaign Advertising Age’s “Marketer of the Year” award for 2008) – replete with the “historic” installment of a Black family (headed by a man with a technically Muslim name) in the White House in the land of slavery – smart top investor class operatives understood that the basic neoliberal policy mix (including massive government subsidy for the wealthy and financial few and vicious market discipline for the rest) would remain intact. By stealing populist-sounding rhetoric from the 2011 Occupy Movement (even as his Department of Homeland Security helped Democratic city governments violently repress that movement from coast to coast) and having the luck to run against a classically elite Republican and super-wealthy finance capitalist (Mitt “Mr. 1%” Romney) in 2012, Obama was able to extend his racially-enhanced variant of the Hitchensian-Clintonite game for a second term.

“You Had Your Input”: The Illusion of Democracy Through Elections

The second function, more broadly systemic and ideological. It is to sell the illusion of democracy through elections. Again and again, the population is told that going into a two-[capitalist-]party ballot box for two minutes once every two or four years is a great and glorious exercise in popular self-rule. So what if the major party candidates are generally vetted in advance by the capitalist and imperial establishment, from which they often come? And so what if the ruling class rules in numerous ways, every day, at multiple levels, beneath and beyond the big, mass-marketed candidate-centered major party election spectacles that are staged for us on the highly time-staggered, constitutionally appointed schedule. And so what if, as Rob Urie recently reminded us on Counterpunch, the only two officially viable and recognized parties, the Democrats and Republicans, represent just 30 percent of eligible U.S. voters. (The Democrats make up just 17 percent of those voters. The Republicans come it at an even more paltry 13 percent. “The largest category of eligible voters is those that don’t vote [48 percent!] followed by political independents [24 percent].”) As Urie reflects:

“fringe interests— those of a tiny political and economic elite, [have] been…successfully portrayed as democratic choice…The illusion of putting Hillary Clinton, who is a full-time employee of Wall Street and Exxon-Mobil and has the paychecks to prove it, or Donald Trump, who inherited a real-estate empire worth millions (billions in today’s dollars) and who is friends with the rich and powerful (including Hillary Clinton), forward as representatives of ‘the people’s’ interests requires radically misrepresenting those interests. By posing Clinton and Trump as oppositional a realm of difference is created that limits political choice to one or the other. Left unsaid is that registered Democrats plus registered Republicans constitute less than one third of the electorate— both candidates are ‘fringe’ in terms of public support for their Party’s programs” (emphasis added).

“Rejoice citizens,” the U.S. wealth and power elite and its ubiquitous commercial media and its many highly indoctrinated intellectuals tell the people, “you had your input on Election Day. Freedom and democracy are wondrous indeed. Don’t forget to salute your military heroes!”

Personalities Over Issues

As public opinion surveys have shown for decades, most members of the majority working class U.S. citizenry are left-leaning progressives. They are social democrats, egalitarians, environmentalists, and anti-imperial supporters of the common good when it comes to policy issues – and (for what it’s worth) to visions of a good and decent society. The ruling class doesn’t like that. Consistent with their captivity to Urie’s “fringe interests,” the two reigning parties and the broader money, media, and electoral system of which they are parts relentlessly over-focus voters and election “choices” on trivial matters of candidate personalities and imagery, NOT on serious and substantive matters of policy and social justice. Real issues that matter are pushed to the margins, particularly after the presidential primaries, when each party stages a giant marketing campaign around selling its chosen fake Voice of the People like advertisers pushing beer, toothpaste, cars, and pharmaceuticals. As Noam Chomsky noted on the eve of the 2004 presidential election pitting George W. Bush again John F. Kerry:

“Bush and Kerry can run because they’re funded by basically the same concentrations of private power. Both candidates understand that the election is supposed to stay away from issues. They are creatures of the public relations industry, which keeps the public out of the election process. The concentration is on what they call a candidate’s ‘qualities,’ not policies. Is he a leader? A nice guy? Voters end up endorsing an image, not a platform…Last month a Gallup poll asked Americans why they’re voting for either Bush or Kerry. From a multiple-choice list, a mere 6 percent of Bush voters and 13 percent of Kerry voters picked the candidates’ ‘agendas/ideas/platforms/goals.’ That’s how the political system prefers it. Often the issues that are most on people’s minds don’t enter at all clearly into the debate… During the primaries, before the main event fully gears up, candidates can raise issues and help organize popular support for them, thereby influencing campaigns to some extent. After the primaries, mere statements make a minimal impact without a significant organization behind them.”

This – the promotion of candidate traits, brands, properties, and personas over significant and sober issues and policy – is the third great class rule function of the dominant two U.S. political parties and the U.S. elections system.

“That’s Politics”: All About Elections

A fourth key class rule function of the U.S. party and elections system is to channel popular political energies into the constitutionally appointed major party candidate contests and away from the more urgent, significant, and effective politics of building mass grassroots popular movements and undertaking direct and disruptive, profit-threatening actions against the nation’s capitalist masters, guardians, and managers. Here again Chomsky’s 2004 essay is useful:

“Americans may be encouraged to vote, but not to participate more meaningfully in the political arena. Essentially the election is a method of marginalizing the population. A huge propaganda campaign is mounted to get people to focus on these personalized quadrennial extravaganzas and to think, ‘That’s politics.’ But it isn’t. It’s only a small part of politics…The urgency is for popular progressive groups to grow and become strong enough so that centers of power can’t ignore them. Forces for change that have come up from the grass roots and shaken the society to its core include the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the peace movement, the women’s movement and others, cultivated by steady, dedicated work at all levels, every day, not just once every four years…sensible [electoral] choices have to be made. But they are secondary to serious political action.”

Chomsky’s sentiments were echoed four years later by his good friend the radical American historian Howard Zinn, who reflected on the “the election madness” he saw “engulfing the entire society including the left” as Barack Obamania took hold. It was nothing new, Zinn observed:

“the election frenzy…seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls… And sad to say, the Presidential contest has mesmerized liberals and radicals alike. … But before and after those two minutes [in a voting booth], our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.”

“The only thing that’s going to ever bring about any meaningful change,” Chomsky told Abby Martin of teleSur English last fall, “is ongoing, dedicated, popular movements that don’t pay attention to the election cycle.” Under the American religion of voting, Chomsky told Dan Falcone and Saul Isaacson last week, “Citizenship means every four years you put a mark somewhere and you go home and let other guys run the world. It’s a very destructive ideology… basically, a way of making people passive, submissive objects…[we] ought to teach kids that elections take place but that’s not politics.”

The U.S. major political parties are unusually focused on elections, it should be added. As Chomsky reminded Falcone and Isaacson, “the United States doesn’t have political parties. In other countries, take say Europe, you can be an active member of the political party. Here, the only thing in a political party is gearing to elections, not the other things you do.”

The impact of U.S. major party electoral politics on social movements is worse than mere and momentary diversion. The major parties, their candidates and their elections serve as the graveyard of social movements and as demobilizing and co-opting “shock absorbers” that capture and contain the popular anger and energy that might sustain such movements. The parties and their elections and candidates are where social movements go to die, get dismantled, and co-opted once every 2 or 4 years. Even worse, major party activists constantly work to infiltrate social movements and create faux-popular “Astroturf” organizations that pretend to stand apart from the election cycle but are actually all about steering popular energy into the narrow channels of the major party’s electoral agenda. The Democratic Party-captive “progressive movement” is already at work trying to capture and channel grassroots activism in the aftermath of the current election cycle.

The paralyzing impact of all this on real peoples’ movements is deepened by the unreal length of the “quadrennial extravaganza[s].” The U.S. presidential major party election process is absurdly prolonged. Major mass media saturate the politically sentient populace with a seemingly interminable flood of stories about major party candidates and their “qualities,” quirks, and scandals for at least a year prior to the actual presidential election. The presidential primaries are strung out from early February through June, followed by major party conventions in August and then a three-month orgy of mudslinging between the two major party finalists. “That’s politics” never seems to go away.

Maintaining America’s “Signature Exclusion”

A fifth class rule function of the two dominant parties is to make things impossible for third and fourth parties who want to advance demands outside and against the narrow, elite-managed capitalist and imperial spectrum. In what the leading election reform advocate Jamin Raskin calls “America’s signature exclusion,” third and fourth parties are prohibited from competing with the duopoly on a free and equal basis.

One of the many different areas where Republicans and Democrats have always eagerly and easily collaborated is the construction of ballot access laws and campaign finance rules and the maintenance of an authoritarian winner-take-all structure that makes it impossible for any party outside the two dominant organizations to win or even to gather strength. For what it’s worth (not much), this is in direct violation of majority public opinion, which has held for decades that the two reigning parties do not accurately reflect that real spectrum of political opinion in the U.S. With the Trump insurgency on the right and the Sanders campaign on the left, it’s clear that the U.S. populace could easily back three or four parties if the United States were to honor public opinion by constitutionally creating a multiparty system.

Identity Over Class Politics

A sixth basic class rule function of the two reigning U.S major political parties is to organize and channel the electorate’s political consciousness and electoral “choices” around real and perceived differences of regional, racial, ethnic, national, personal, sexual, religious, and/or familial identity instead of shared class sentiments and issues. In the neoliberal era, “identity politics” has come, in the words of the eminent Marxist historian Perry Anderson, “to replace what was once [during the long New Deal era of 1935-1980] something like class politics…as the basis of coalition formation and electoral mobilization [in the U.S.]. In the process,” Anderson noted three years ago, “traditional income formations [of voting behavior] have been losing their salience, or warping into their opposite.” In 2008, for example, Republican presidential candidate John McCain won the majority voters living on less than $50,000 a year and the Democratic victor Obama won a majority of those receiving over $200,000 a year.

Obama’s two presidential victories depended not on labor and working class support so much as on the votes of racial and ethnic minorities, the rising female vote, unmarried professionals, single parents, and gays. Obama was what Anderson called “the perfect candidate for the new [identity-politicized] hour: not only younger, cooler, and more eloquent but magnetic for the minorities on which victory depended.” So what if Obama set new Wall Street campaign funding records in 2008 and consistently as President served the corporate and financial elites who rule the nation in numerous ways (campaign finance is just the tip of the iceberg)? Democrats hold the upper hand over Republicans in U.S. presidential contests, winning the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections (but losing the Florida governor’s and U.S. Supreme Court’s vote in 2000) largely because the racial, ethnic, gender, and broader social demographics of the national electorate have changed in their favor.

This does not mean that U.S. citizens necessarily or inherently privilege social identity over economic class in terms of what they think matters in public affairs. It reflects the significant extent to which the U.S. party and elections system privileges non-class social identity politics when it comes to forming coalitions and marshalling voters and Democrats “long-term trend away from economic class issues” (Jeff Faux) in deference to the wealthy few. Reduced to a corporate-managed electorate (Sheldon Wolin), the citizenry is identity-played by a moneyed elite that pulls the strings behind the duopoly’s candidate-centered spectacles of faux democracy. As the Left author Chris Hedges noted three years ago, “Both sides of the political spectrum are manipulated by the same forces. If you’re some right-wing Christian zealot in Georgia, then it’s homosexuals and abortion and all these, you know, wedge issues that are used to whip you up emotionally. If you are a liberal in Manhattan, it’s – you know, they’ll be teaching creationism in your schools or whatever…Yet in fact it’s just a game, because whether it’s Bush or whether it’s Obama, Goldman Sachs always wins. There is no way to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs.”

“We Don’t Have the Numbers”

A seventh class rule function of the reigning U.S. party and elections system is to feed the illusion that left progressives don’t reflect majority public opinion when they advocate things like single-payer national health insurance, progressive taxation, serious environmental protection, major government jobs programs, and a transfer of taxpayer dollars from the gargantuan U.S. military empire to positive social programs. Candidates who advocate such things typically don’t get very far in the Democratic Party’s congressional and presidential primaries because party gatekeepers, donors, and the media generally make sure to crush them. The fact that such candidates campaign on behalf of policies that most US citizens actually support but lose out in the supposedly democratic (in fact rigged and plutocratic) primary elections system fuels the deadly and false belief that progressive, social-democratic policies lack majority support. This can further feelings of futility and isolation among progressive citizens and activists.

“Two Wings of the Same Bird of Prey”

Left radicals often claim that the two parties are completely identical, the exact same – that there are no real differences between them. I never quite say that. I prefer to follow the 20th century U.S. socialist Upton Sinclair in calling the Democrats and Republicans “two wings of the same bird of prey.” Yes, they’re both state-capitalist. Yes, they’re both nationalistic, militaristic and imperial. But the ruling class could not effectively sell the major party duopoly if there were no differences whatsoever between them. They have different histories, different regional bases, different racial and ethnic and gender and religious constituency profiles, different positions on various social and identity issues, and so on. They also have somewhat different investor class profiles (in terms of which structural, regional, and cultural blocs of big capital they represent) even if finance capital (itself not without internal divisions) is the leading force in both parties in the neoliberal era.

At the same time, there’s a related division of labor between the two major parties. For various historical reasons, it’s the Republicans who tend to identify themselves more with hatred of big government, government regulation and the welfare state. The Republicans exemplify Hitchens’ “essence of American politics” (the manipulation of populism by elitism) in a more outwardly ugly way than do the Democrats – with no small hint of open white-nationalist racism, nativism, sexism, and evangelical false piety. The Democrats are by far and away the most skilled, effective, and well-positioned party when it comes to buying off and shutting down popular, Left and potentially Left social movements and when it comes to co-opting independent Left politics. It’s the more urban/urbane, racially and ethnically diverse, female, and outwardly liberal, and purportedly progressive, socially concerned Democrats who have most effectively contained and captured the energies when it comes to the labor, environmentalist, civil rights, feminist, gay rights, antiwar, and immigrant rights movements. The Democrats are the top shock absorber when it comes to keeping popular forces weak and divided. And it’s the Democrats who tend to own the racial and ethnic minority vote and the female vote, which is the main reason they tend now to win presidential elections in an increasingly non-white America with more and more people living outside the traditional patriarchal family.

What Impact Are Trump and Sanders Having on the Party System?

Trump: Right Wing Racist Populism Manipulation

Reflecting widespread mass anger at the ever steeper hyper-inequality, ubiquitous economic precarity, and soulless corporate-financial plutocracy of the 21st century New Gilded Age, the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders “insurgencies” have roiled the major party’s corporate, financial, and imperial establishments. The considerable popular support that the fascist-lite Trump has received in the primary campaign has been great enough to seize the Republican nomination from a ridiculously large field of candidates divided between a scattering of more mainstream and neoliberal, corporate-Wall Street Republicans (Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Chris Christie) and a crazy cadre of hard-right characters (the loathsome Christian-constitutionalist neo fascist Ted Cruz, the ludicrous free market brain surgeon Ben Carson, the evangelical comedian Mike Huckabee, and the vicious bastard Rick Santorum et al.). As the Left economist and political commentator Jack Rasmus notes, “Primaries are tolerated so long as they don’t challenge party leadership control. Sometimes a candidate from below slips under the fence—like [Democrat George] McGovern in 1972 or Trump today in 2016.” In the wake of Trump’s triumph over the GOP establishment, Rasmus rightly adds, “the Republican party elite will no doubt do its fence mending to prevent another Trump.” The GOP leadership will change its primary and nomination system to make sure that an independent challenger like The Donald can’t break through again.

The nominally socialist Sanders’ far more genuinely populist, polite, and civilized upsurge has targeted the One Percent, with extreme U.S. economic inequality and (the) plutocracy (that follows in such disparity’s wake like stink on shit) his consistent and wildly popular (for some very good reasons) top issue. Bernie has exceeded all original expectations (including those of his own team) but has not been able to defeat the arch-neoliberal Eisenhower Republican Hillary Clinton (the preferred candidate of least resistance for the financial elite) in the far less splintered Democratic field (neither Martin O’Malley nor the hapless Jim Webb ever registered more than a tiny bleep on the candidate radar screen). Along with vast personal financial resources to invest in his campaign, Trump’s advantages over Sanders have included a far bigger field of competing candidates in the party whose nomination he sought and a vast windfall of free coverage from the corporate media of which he is largely a creation.

Trump is the more disruptive force on the rightmost side of the right-wing U.S. party system. He’s been ripping at the fabric of a Republican Party that is already badly frayed by class differences between its super-wealthy corporate and financial elite and its white middle and working class base. He’s run off the elite capitalist neoliberal and imperial (Council of Foreign Relations) leash in ways that resonate with a lot of angry and alienated working class and lower middle class white voters. Along with his highly personal and incredibly juvenile attacks (almost like something from Jersey Shore) on top Republican politicians and his incredibly high disapproval numbers especially among women (70 percent of whom view Trump unfavorably), that’s why a fair portion of the Republican establishment has tried to block his nomination. Many top Republicans won’t back him in the general election. (One of the Koch brothers has even recently suggested that he’ll go with Hillary Clinton over Trump, along with foreign policy neocons like Robert Kagan and Max Boot). It’s hard to see how many evangelical Christians (a key part of the Republican base) could get seriously behind a candidate who is so obviously a product and eager, uber-narcissistic embodiment of the salacious, soulless, and amoral culture of celebrity and worldly goods.

Primary candidate Trump has run with some very noxious rhetoric that has long been part of the elite, Machiavellian, populace-manipulating Republican playbook. He has tapped and intensified ugly strands of frustrated white nationalism, nativism, and male chauvinism that the arch-plutocratic GOP has been cultivating for decades. At the same time, however, Trump has often sounded remarkably populist on jobs, trade, and corporate conduct in ways that specifically working class voters appreciate and wealthy Republicans loathe. He has been critical of policies and processes that opulent Bush and Romney Republicans (and elite Clinton and Obama Democrats) hold dear, including corporate globalization, so called free trade, global capital mobility, cheap labor immigration. Trump has also raised some crude “isolationist”-sounding objections to something else that establishment Republicans and Democrats both like: destructive U.S. imperialist adventurism. Trump has dared to question the wisdom of the U.S. the bombing of Libya, the destabilization of Syria, and the provocation of Putin’s Russia.

Trump has on occasion threatened to bolt the GOP and to launch his own campaign outside the Republican Party. He boasts of being so wealthy that he doesn’t have to rely on establishment corporate and Wall Street funders. His personal fortune (probably less spectacular than he claims) is part of his populist appeal, ironically enough.

Along with the free media attention he has received, the notoriety he already enjoyed as a television celebrity, and the significant extent to which he channels (highly understandable) mass hatred of U.S. politicians (and of Hillary Clinton) and refined upper middle class liberals, the blustering billionaire Trump’s devious but performance as angry champion of the (white) working man is no small part of why he has risen above the usual sorry non-establishment Republican pack to seize the nomination from the Wall Street-vetted sorts who normally ascend in accord with Ferguson’s “investment theory.” It’s an extraordinary and no small indication of how dysfunctional and out of touch with underlying socioeconomic reality the “apocalyptic cult” (leading Republican thinker Norman Ornstein) that is the GOP today has become.

Still, it may be easy to exaggerate the extent to which Trump is truly upsetting the establishment-ruled Republican applecart and the U.S. two-party system. His actual policy positions and the people he and the GOP put around him (an old Washington maxim notes that “personnel is policy”) will much more closely match the standard ruling class neoliberal and imperial (CFR) agenda than his populist primary campaign rhetoric. In the wake of securing enough delegates to prevail at the Republican National Convention, Trump has made some peace with key players atop the Republican establishment, including the noxious Ayn Rand-worshipping House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). Trump is playing the Hitchensian game in a dark, possibly Hitler-inspired way.  He certainly knows that he needs establishment support if he is serious about moving his reality television show into the White House.

In an editorial calling Ryan’s recent endorsement of Trump “a sad day for the GOP – and America,” the Washington Post’s establishment editorial board noted that “Judging by his wild swings of position over the years, Mr. Trump does not believe in much of anything.” That would seem to be an accurate judgment: Trump is all about image, marketing, wealth, celebrity, uber-narcissism, personal insult, and sociopathic self-promotion, period.

But then the Post editors wrote the following: “The convictions that he does hold – against free trade and U.S. leadership abroad, for dividing the nation by religion and ethnicity – are antithetical to the principles Mr. Ryan sa[ys] guide him.” There’s quite a bit wrong with that second sentence, including the deletion of Ryan’s deep commitment to racism, nativism, and state capitalism and the identification of imperial adventurism with global “leadership.” For the purposes of the present essay, however, the Post editors’ main mistake is to believe (for some mysterious reason) that Trump sincerely opposes so-called free trade (unlimited global investor rights).

Meanwhile, Trump obviously exacerbates some of the terrible, hallmark aspects of the U.S. party system discussed in the second sub-section of this essay. The ridiculous, bombastic, and interminably insolent Donald – brash mocker and enemy of established norms of civility – carries the mass media’s infantilizing obsession with candidate personalities, “qualities,” images, and brands to new heights (Trump is himself darkly and creepily fixated on such matters). At the same time, Trump’s vaguely neo-fascistic white nationalist racism and nativism (which may be sincere or may just be more manipulation) reinforce the racial and ethnic identity politics focus and (indeed) obsession that is a critical class-rule component of the U.S. two party order. As political scientist Emily Thorson noted on Politico last March:

“After Barack Obama’s inauguration, it was easy — and reassuring — to believe that the country had finally moved beyond the racial divides that have long shaped the American political landscape. Racial fault lines run deep in American life, and for generations, presidential candidates have carefully tiptoed around the topic…Not Trump. From the beginning of his campaign, he has loudly declared such tiptoeing to be part of the problem, choosing instead to make issues of race and identity a centerpiece of his political strategy. He has characterized Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists, called for a ‘total and complete’ ban on Muslims entering the U.S., and, more recently, implicitly condoned attacks on black activists at his rallies.”

“These actions are not isolated incidents of racist speech; they are critical parts of Trump’s larger campaign narrative, which seeks to ‘make America great again’ by rewarding those whom he sees as deserving (the people who originally ‘made America great’) and punishing the undeserving (those he sees as contributing to the nation’s downfall)….Trump’s laser-like focus on who deserves what — and his willingness to explicitly draw connections between deservedness and race — resonates with many Americans…Trump’s rhetoric has…tapped a set of beliefs already held by many Americans: that the system treats white people unfairly, and that minorities are getting more than they deserve.”

One day after Ryan gave him his endorsement, the orange-faced Trump went on a racist and nativist rampage. He’s been making heavily racialized attacks ever since against the U.S.-born Mexican American federal judge who is overseeing a class action lawsuit against the fraudulent “Trump University.” The Donald has “doubled and tripled down on the attacks—and has ordered his surrogates to do the same – even though he has no support inside the Republican Party on the issue. Many of Trump’s closest allies, including Newt Gingrich, have condemned his remarks, which means that Capitol Hill Republicans – many of whom will be up for reelection in the fall—are beside themselves. The Democrats,” the centrist New Republic reports with disgust, “are taking this controversy national, revealing a strategy to saddle every Republican across the country with Trump’s antics.”

Then there’s Trump’s many degrading and demeaning statements about women have resonated with millions of sexist males. The Donald’s nauseating misogyny and sexism are also bound to reinforce the hold of identity over class politics in the U.S. They seem likely to doom him in a contest with Hillary Clinton, who can now (after her crushing defeats of Sanders in New Jersey and California) be finally called the presumptive Democratic nominee and who hailed her nomination triumph last Tuesday as a victory for women’s rights. Females make up 52 percent of the electorate in the U.S.

The Republican Party’s sharpest elites will try to keep a healthy distance from their party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, this fall. They have no choice if they want to sustain their hold over Congress and not lose power in the states. Surely they are already at work fashioning adjustments to make the Trump phenomenon a bizarre one-off experience. Among other things, look for them to dramatically reduce the number of candidates permitted to enter the primary race.

Sanders: Neo-New Deal Populism in Service to Establishment Neoliberalism

Bernie Sanders has been less threatening to establishment Democrats than Trump has been to the Republican establishment. Sanders may talk about leading a “political revolution.” He may on occasion be willing to let himself be called a democratic socialist. He’s raised some embarrassing points about Hillary Clinton when it comes to her Wall Street funding profile, her Goldman Sachs speeches, her longstanding support for (and transparently calculated campaign reversal on) the arch-global-corporatist Trans Pacific Partnership, and her sickening vote for the Iraq War.

The enthusiasm his campaign has evoked, most particularly among young people, has gone far beyond anything Bernie and his team anticipated. His giant and roaring crowds, his record setting mass of small donations, and his caucus and primary vote totals have exceeded anything Hillary and the DNC expected when she at first happily welcomed her “good friend” Sanders into the race. The Clintons and their establishment party allies have felt compelled to respond to the Sanders phenomenon in nastier and dirtier ways than they ever imagined. They certainly did not envisage having to rely on the openly authoritarian ruling class fail-safe device (introduced to prevent another left-liberal like George McGovern from winning the Democratic nomination) called the “super-delegates” (the 15 percent of openly unelected Democratic Party Convention delegates comprised of Democratic Party officials and elected politicians) to claim victory. Sanders may not get the nomination but he has certainly caused considerable discomfort in the Clinton camp and the in the Democratic National Committee (DNC). As Rasmus observes, “Democratic party leaders will never allow another ‘independent,’ like Sanders, to ever contest for their party’s nomination. Sanders has given them a political scare. The Democratic party fence will undergo some major rewiring.”

Still, Bernie’s challenge to the Clintons and the DNC has been tepid and cowardly on the whole. Sanders said from day one that he would “of course” back the eventual corporate Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, with no questions asked and no conditions demanded. He’s an Empire Man who refuses to make substantive criticisms of the U.S. permanent global war of terror and the giant Pentagon System despite the fact that his liberal domestic social agenda would require massive cuts in the nation’s globally and historically unmatched war machine.

Last April on CBS and NBC, leading up to the New York primary, Bernie contritely exonerated Hillary for her revolting 2002 Iraq War vote. He cowered meekly before the looming establishment media alpha donkey Charlie Rose to claim that “of course I do not hold her accountable” for “Iraq War deaths.” It was terrible to watch, but it was all too darkly consistent with Sanders’ previous and eager endorsement of Obama’s vast jihad-fueling drone war program, which has been aptly described by Chomsky as “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times.” Perhaps the Sanders campaign should have coined a new campaign slogan: “Hold Democrats Accountable for War Crimes? Never!”

Bernie’s been very careful not to go for the kill against Hillary. If he had been serious about preempting her coronation, he would have gone after her egregious, Nixonian e-mail scandal (a result of Mrs. Clinton’s determination to hide damning communications with elite donors to the corrupt global-capitalist Clinton Foundation during her years atop the U.S. State Department) instead of writing that criminal outrage off as a cheap charge launched by nasty Republicans – and as something “the American people” were “tired of hearing about.” He would also have targeted her terrible Kissingerian conduct in Libya (Benghazi included), Syria, Ukraine, and Honduras. Seriously contesting Hillary’s anointment would have meant going after the neoliberal and imperialist atrocity that is the Clinton Foundation. It would have meant highlighting the early and leading role the Clintons played in turning the Democratic Party further to the pro-Big Business right back in the 1970s and 1980s. It would have involved going hard at the dreadful record of the 1990s Clinton administration in deregulating Wall Street, passing the arch-neoliberal North American Free Trade agreement, in passing the viciously poor-bashing and racist so-called welfare reform of 1996.

Seriously contesting “Lady Klynton Kissinger-Sachs (as she is known on Wall Street)” (Jennifer Matsui) would also have involved a much more intelligent, honest, and radical approach to Black America and the problem of racial oppression in America. That would have required calling out the cruel, underlying mass-incarceration-ist racism that has always been at the heart of the cold-blooded Clinton project (another good source on that besides the Michelle Alexander essay just hyperlinked is the eleventh chapter of Elaine Brown’s masterful book The Condemnation of Little B). It would have meant connecting Sanders’ own youthful Civil Rights activism (oddly underplayed in his campaign) to campaign oratory about the central role that white racism and ruling class racial divide-and-rule (a game the southern-seasoned Yale Law graduates Bill and Hillary have long mastered with Machiavellian expertise) has always played in keeping the American ruling class prosperous and powerful. It would have meant Bernie not bluntly dismissing reparations as a “divisive” issue and Bernie learning how to adjust his humorless and rapid-fire speaking style for Black church audiences. That’s all part of how Sanders (from the whitest region of the nation) might have avoided being so badly played by the racial identity politics card that the Clinton machine dealt to defeat him.

From the outset, Sanders explicitly admitted that his real role in this election was to help expand turnout for Hillary Clinton and the mainstream Democrats – to help the dismal dollar Dems bring more young and understandably disaffected voters into the major party electoral process. It’s what Black Agenda Report’s Bruce Dixon called Bernie’s “sheepdog” role and what I have called his “Judas Goat” assignment: to herd reasonably alienated voters back into the corporate-managed social movement cemetery and radicalism-butchering abattoir that is the Democratic Party.

The “socialist” Bernie could have done significant, maybe even fatally disruptive damage to the wretched neoliberal nightmare that is the Democratic Party, once aptly described by the former top Nixon strategist Kevin Phillips as “history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party.” But that was never the what Sanders and his team wanted, despite their misleading talk of “revolution.” Why not? As Jeffrey St. Clair noted on Counterpunch last April:

“For starters, many of Sanders’s top advisers, such as Tad Devine, are Democratic Party loyalists, who will certainly want jobs in other Democratic campaigns in the next election cycle. More pressingly, although Bernie talks of political revolution, he’s really a reformer. His goal is to refashion the Democratic Party from the inside… His entire political life testifies to his liberal incrementalism. The man has been in elected office since 1981, tweaking at the gears instead of monkey-wrenching the machine. If Sanders now seems like a radical, it’s only a measure how far to the right the Democrats have migrated since the rise of the neoliberals…Ultimately, Bernie Sanders is a loyalist to liberalism. That’s why he voted for Bill Clinton’s racist Crime Bill. It’s why he voted twice to overthrow Saddam Hussein during Clinton time and endorsed a cruel sanctions regime that killed more than 400,000 innocent Iraqi kids. It’s why he backed the Clinton war on Serbia, voted for the AUMF that has been used to justify total and enduring war since 9/11, backed the Libyan intervention and, most crucially, pledged to support Hillary if she is eventually the nominee, which she was pre-ordained to become” (emphasis added).

At the same time, Sanders reinforces the exaggerated focus of progressive activism on major party, candidate-centered electoral politics instead of social movements, popular disruption, and direct action around issues and radical change beneath and beyond the games that politicians play. Here again St. Clair hit the bulls eye:

“More and more this vaunted [Sanders] ‘movement’ seems to be little more than a kind of moveable feast, which follows Sanders around like a swarm of post-modern Deadheads, from venue to venue, to hear the senator deliver the same tepid stump speech he’s been warbling for the last 8 months…What might a real movement have done? If Sanders could turn 30,000 people out for a pep rally in Washington Square Park, why couldn’t he have had a flash mob demonstration mustering half that many fervent supporters to shut down Goldman Sachs for a day? If he could lure 20,000 Hipsters to the Rose Garden in Portland, why couldn’t he turn out 10,000 Sandernistas to bolster the picket lines of striking Verizon workers? If Sanders could draw 15,000 people in Austin, Texas, why couldn’t his movement bring 5,000 people to Huntsville to protest executions at the Texas death house? If Sanders could draw 18,000 people to a rally in Las Vegas, why couldn’t he just as easily have lead them in a protest at nearby Creech Air Force Base, the center of operations for US predator drones? Strike that. Sanders supports Obama’s killer drone program. My bad. But you get the point. Instead of being used as stage props, why hasn’t Sanders put his teaming crowds of eager Sandernistas to work doing the things that real movements do: blocking the sale of a foreclosed house in Baltimore, disrupting a fracking site in rural Pennsylvania, shutting down the entrance to the police torture chamber at Homan Square in Chicago for a day, intervening between San Diego cops and the homeless camp they seek to evict? Why? Because that’s not who Bernie Sanders is and that’s not what his movement is about. He’s willing to rock the neoliberal boat, but not sink it” (emphasis added).

When Saul Isaacson recently asked him if “the Sanders movement” is “around to stay,” Chomsky answered as follows:

“I think a lot of it’s up to him. I mean what they should have been doing all along is kind of marginalizing the focus on elections, which is secondary, and using the opportunity to build or sustain the ongoing movement which will pay attention to the elections for 10 minutes but meanwhile do other things. Now it’s the other way around. It’s all focused on the election. It’s just part of the ideology. The way you keep people out of activism is get them all excited about the carnival that goes on every four years and then go home, which has happened over and over. The Rainbow Coalition [had this effect] …the time to be political is not when you have parties and carnivals. It’s kind of a show, the election. It affects something but not that much” (emphasis added).

(And, of course, Bernie’s not really a socialist. He’s a social-democratically inclined neo-Keynesian New Deal liberal at leftmost. He has picked an argument not just with Karl Marx and Eugene Debs but with Webster’s Dictionary by falsely proclaiming that socialism is consistent with continued private, for-profit ownership of the means of production, distribution, and investment. This is no small or merely academic error because it is becoming clearer every day that capitalism properly understood is institutionally hard wired to dismantle livable ecology and destroy all prospects for a decent human future.)

The Sanders campaign certainly deserves credit for showing that (in Ron Jacobs’ words on Counterpunch) “a substantial number of Americans are interested in redistributing wealth and making government work for the 99 percent.” But reputable surveys have shown for decades that most Americans already supported those things. And Sanders’ coming, inevitable, and promised surrender to Hillary Clinton is likely to play the deadly seventh role of the U.S. major party system I discussed above: fueling the false belief that progressive, social-democratic policies lack majority support and furthering a sense of futility and isolation among progressive citizens and activists.

Bernie Sanders ran as a New Deal Democrat, pushing for “something like class politics” (Anderson) in a post-New Deal neoliberal era. But besides being something of a quiet imperialist (something that fiscally negates social democracy), he’s a man out of time. We inhabit an epoch where the critical institutional components of the long lost New Deal coalition (chiefly a rising new industrial labor movement and a world-leading capital intensive mass-productionist multinational corporate sector) no longer hold sway. It is a time in which the globalization of capital and markets make the living standards and consuming power of the U.S. working class majority a matter of far less concern to the national and global economic elite than they were was back in the “Fordist” and Keynesian days of Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower.

Just how successful Bernie will be in convincing his supporters, and especially his young socialist-leaning backers to line up with the noxious neoliberal Clinton machine is an open and fascinating question. Many young American voters are unimpressed both with the major party duopoly and with “the game of Lesser Evils” (Michelle Alexander) – a game that has delivered little if anything progressive under eight years of Barack TransPacific Obama. A fair portion of Bernie’s supporters would vote for an actually left and socialist third or fourth party if the U.S. was magically transformed into a multiparty nation. Many of them will prefer to sit the election our or vote for Jill Stein and the Green Party before marking a ballot for Lady Klynton Kissinger-Sachs. And I suspect that a certain significant number of older independent voters for whom Bernie Sanders was their first choice will opt for renegade Trump in the general election.

The most remarkable thing about the critical question of how Sanders’ supporters will vote (or not) next November is the stark readiness the Clintons and the Democratic Party establishment and its many allies in the mass media have shown to alienate and insult Bernie’s many left-leaning fans. As I argued in a recent Counterpunch essay titled “Feel the Hate,” this seemingly self-destructive willingness to disrespect Sanders’ supporters is just the latest reflection of the bottomless hatred that establishment Democrats have long held for “very liberal” (the pollsters’ term) progressive Democrats. I won’t repeat here all the examples of that contempt I gave in that essay but one subsequent and stunning illustration merits mention. It appears that some establishment Democrats are making contingency plans for the possibility that Hillary’s campaign could be derailed by a federal indictment (over her very real and serious e-mail crimes) by thinking about how to put together an emergency Joe Biden-led presidential ticket. So what if Sanders has mounted an historic campaign on progressive ideals and issues? “I think that would be a terrible, terrible idea,” Sanders has told the Young Turks, a pro-Sanders online news show. “That would say to the millions of people who have supported us, that have worked with us, that would say all of your energy, all of your votes, all of your beliefs are irrelevant.” Gee, Senator Sanders, do ya think?

Behind all this flaying around lay what Counterpunch’s Eric Draitser cleverly calls “the elephant (and donkey) in the room: both major parties are wholly owned subsidiaries of finance capital and the corporations that rule over us. This,” Draitser adds, “is the realization that millions of Americans have already made, and which millions more are making.  This is the realization that keeps Democratic and Republican apparatchiks up at night.  And this critical revelation is what Bernie, Liz [Warren] & Co [‘progressive Democrats’ pledged to support Hillary Clinton] are there to suppress.”

What is the Way to Move Forward?

The System Works for Them

The “unelected dictatorship of money’s” overall political contributions (more difficult to definitively trace in the Citizens United era) will tilt as usual toward GOP candidates this year, but not in the presidential race. Smart corporate and Wall Street operatives prefer the imperial ruling class operative they know very well – Hillary Clinton. They also love the identity-politicized drama of purported “partisan warfare” between the executive and legislative branches in Washington. The Blue-Red divide provides useful diversion, division, and the purported “democratic” cause of supposed government paralysis (presumed “gridlock”) while the One Percent continues to wield (actually effective) financial state-capitalist power for business rule as usual. The “marionette theater” is useful indeed for Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Boeing, Exxon, and Raytheon et al.

As Leibovich found on the ground in the nation’s capitalist capital, the “hopelessly polarized” system functions quite nicely for the opulent minority. Much what is perceived as “Washington’s dysfunction” — gridlock, hyper-partisanship, the failure of Republicans and Democrats “to work together”—is highly purposeful in a business-friendly way. Washington DC in the New Gilded Age has become more concerned with economics than politics, Leibovich noted, and “much of the Washington’s economy – lobbying, political consulting, and cable news – is predicated on the perpetuation of conflict, not the resolution of problems” (Two Funerals, p. 99). It is conflict that attracts viewers and readers, after all. It is conflict that keeps cash flowing into Super PACs, conflict that sells political advertisements, and conflict that creates political careers that an ever-growing army of former office-holders turn into lucrative careers in the private sector – “monetizing their government service” (p. 40) by taking lucrative positions as lobbyists, consultants and media talking heads. Leibovich reported that an astonishing 50 percent of retiring U.S. senators and 42 percent of retiring congresspersons become lobbyists.

Politics as partisan and ideological theater, it turns out, is more materially rewarding than “doing the people’s work” and serving the common good. All the partisan, outwardly “ideological” shouting over the airwaves and across the cable news spectrum is “winking performance art” meant to hide the “’reality,” that “off-air, everyone in Washington is joined in a multilateral conga line of potential business partners” (p. 99). Behind the scenes, smart Washington operatives of both parties are figuring out how to profit from “the continued and sweaty orgy raging between corporate and political enterprise” (p. 308) and the ongoing “romance between Washington and Wall Street” (p. 331). The “partisan” and “ideological” bickering that dominant media point to as the source of “Washington’s [constantly bemoaned] dysfunction” (and as proof of “big government’s” inherent failures) is all part of the big capitalist hustle. “The city, far from being hopelessly divided, is in fact hopelessly interconnected” (p.10) by the “sweaty,” cross-party contest for gain, fame, and pleasure…for more. Constantly said to be “not working,” Washington actually works quite well for its permanent class of insiders, including an army of lobbyists and consultants granted hefty payments for coordinating the orgy behind the scenes – and the journalists who profit from the ongoing spectacle of partisan and “ideological” dysfunction.

“Voting Will Not Alter the Corporate Systems of Power”

Real progressive people’s hope has little to do with U.S. politicians and their endless rolling electoral dramas that are broadcast 24/7 across the cable news empire. Hedges said it very well four years ago, writing in the wake of his arrest along with other activists for joining an Occupy demonstration outside the headquarters of Goldman Sachs in New York City:

“Voting will not alter the corporate systems of power. Voting is an act of political theater. Voting in the United States is as futile and sterile as in the elections I covered as a reporter in dictatorships like Syria, Iran and Iraq. There were always opposition candidates offered up by these dictatorships. Give the people the illusion of choice. Throw up the pretense of debate. Let the power elite hold public celebrations to exalt the triumph of popular will. We can vote for Romney [2016 update: Trump] or Obama [2016: Hillary] but Goldman Sachs and ExxonMobil and Bank of America and the defense contractors always win. There is little difference between our electoral charade and the ones endured by the Syrians and Iranians.”

Real radical and democratic hope rests in the majority working class citizenry and the possibility that a critical mass from its ranks will join a great social and political movement against capitalism and its evil siblings imperialism, racism, sexism, and ecocide. The most urgent political task of all is to create and expand such a movement beneath and beyond the rigged, candidate-centered electoral spectacles, whatever their partisan outcomes. The quadrennial electoral extravaganza is no place to go looking for justice, much less for popular and democratic revolution. “The really critical thing,” Howard Zinn once said, “isn’t who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in–in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories.”

Elections, candidates, and parties come and go, though now the debasing major party election spectacle seems to last forever. Far more relevant to hopes for a decent future is our determination to build radical and lasting through-thick-and-thin peoples and workers power organizations both to win needed reforms and to undertake what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called near the end of his life “the real issue to be faced: the radical reconstruction of society itself.”

Neither progressive policy proposals and programs nor radical societal vision beyond capitalism are in short supply.   Leftists are commonly, even almost ritually told that they carp and complain without offering solutions. But as Chomsky wrote ten years ago, “there is an accurate translation for that charge: ‘they present solutions and I don’t like them.’” What is most missing on the Left are not policy and societal solutions but rather cohesive, resilient, long-lasting radical organization tying together the various fragmented groups and issues around which Left progressive and Leftists often fight very good struggles in the U.S. Without serious, durable, unified, and convincing Left organization, neither revolutionary vision nor reform proposals are going to go very far. This is no small matter. Given capitalism’s systemically inherent war on livable ecology – emerging now as the biggest issue of our or any time – the formation of such a new and united Left popular and institutional presence has become a matter of life and death for the species.  “The uncomfortable truth,” Istvan Meszaros rightly argued 15 years ago, “is that if there is no future for a radical mass movement in our time, there can be no future for humanity itself.”

This year as every four years, the U.S. Left, such as it is, can be counted on tear itself up in the usual quadrennial debate about how to best respond to the narrow and stupid, plutocratic electoral choices on offer from the horrid party and elections system I discussed in the second section of this essay. We can obsess and hold our breath until we’re blue in the face about supposedly nice cops (Carter, Clinton I, Obama, Clinton II) versus bad cops (Nixon, Reagan, Bush I, Bush II, Trump) – about execution by bullet versus execution by hanging, death by heart attack vs. death by stroke – or we can stop, inhale, and dig down to do the elementary work of building “ongoing, dedicated, popular movements” with deeply rooted and durable lives and a revolutionary mission beneath and beyond the masters’ ever more endless election cycles.

An old IWW slogan ran “don’t mourn, organize.” I see nothing wrong and much good about proper mourning. We on the Left have much to mourn about what the profits system and its many intimately related evils have done to life on Earth – and about how we have failed to respond in a remotely adequate fashion. Let’s mourn and organize like never before beneath and beyond the latest quadrennial big money-major party-candidate-centered-mass-marketed shit show, whatever its outcomes.


Feel the Hate

20/06/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, May 27, 2016

any Bernie Sanders activists and supporters are understandably disgusted by the contemptuous mistreatment they and their candidate have received from the corporate-Clintonite Democratic Party and its numerous media allies. The examples of this disrespect and abuse include:

The discourteous rapid-fire inquisition that the New York Daily News editorial board conducted with Sanders and then released as an interview transcript prior to the New York Democratic presidential primary last April.

Hillary Clinton telling MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough that the Daily News grilling “raise[d] a lot of questions” about Sanders’ qualification for the presidency.

Bill Clinton in New Hampshire calling Sanders and his team “hermetically sealed” purists, hypocrites, and thieves and mocking Sanders as “the champion of all things small and the enemy of all things big.”

Hillary “proving that there is nothing and no one she won’t sacrifice on the altar of her political ambition” (Mark Finkelstein) by sending her daughter Chelsea out to absurdly charge that Sanders’ single-payer health care plan would “strip millions and millions and millions of people of their health insurance.”

Former top John Kerry and Obama communications strategist David Wade using his perch at the widely read online political journal Politico to call Sanders “the zombie candidate” – a “doomed” challenger at risk of “becom[ing] Trump’s best ghost-writer for the general election” and a de facto “Nader” who will destroy his party’s nominee with “friendly fire attacks” (establishment Democrats cling to the self-serving myth Ralph Nader is to be blamed for George W. Bush’s victory over the listless corporate Democrat Al Gore in 2000)

Hillary’s prizefighter Paul Krugman viciously and absurdly likening Sanders’ common-sense and majority-backed health insurance proposal to “a standard Republican tax-cut plan” and accusing Sanders of “deep voodoo economics” and “unicorn politics.” (Krugman likes to call Sanders’ supporters “dead-enders.”)

Hillary’s good friend the blood-soaked mass murderer Madeline Albright telling female voters there was a “special place in Hell” for them if they backed Bernie.

The fake-progressive feminist icon Gloria Steinem’s curious claim that young women were voting for Sanders because “when you’re [a] young [woman], you’re thinking ‘where are the boys?’ The boys are with Bernie.”

The repeated suggestion by Hillary and her surrogates, staffers, and allies that Sanders’ moderately progressive domestic policy proposals are “impractical” and excessively idealistic – relevant only to silly young people who need to learn to trust more balanced and down-to-earth elites (people like the dollar-drenched neoliberals Bill and Hillary Clinton) who to use the standard fake-progressive Democratic Party mantra) “know how get things done” (make policy with right-wing Republicans, that is) in Washington.

The ludicrous, power-worshipping Rolling Stone publisher Jan S. Wenner (the man who took childish fake-progressive ObamaLust to frightening new heights in 2008) insultingly and inaccurately describing Sanders as just “a candidate of anger.” (“But it is not enough to be a candidate of anger. Anger is not a plan…”)

The endless stream of establishment “liberal” talking heads and pundits (with Krugman as the leader of the pack) across “mainstream” (corporate) U.S. media who have treated Sanders’ neo-New Deal agenda as a radically outlandish pipedream beyond the pale of serious discussion.

The constantly repeated claim that Sanders’ lacks Hillary’s ability to defeat Trump despite one match up poll after another showing Bernie doing substantially better than Mrs. Clinton against The Donald.

The repeated false charge that Sanders’ supporters at the Nevada state Democratic Party conventions became a raging mob of “chair-throwing” thugs on par with the worst hooligans at Donald Trump’s rallies.

Clintons’ refusal to debate Bernie in California, a clear statement that “Zombie” Sanders no longer merits the time of day as far as she and the party establishment are concerned.

It hasn’t just been about insults, put-downs, and smears. There’s also the Clinton-captive Democratic Party’s systematic and authoritarian distortion and, yes, rigging of the primary nomination process at the local, state, and national levels. There are abundant reasons to believe that Hillary has benefitted from electoral and administrative shenanigans across the (seemingly endless) primary season. The fixing process was evident in Las Vegas recently, when the Nevada Democratic Party chair “shut down debate behind a screen of uniformed police” after the party excluded 58 Sanders delegates with sudden “rules changes” clearly made to block Sanders’ rightful claim to have won Nevada. No wonder a Sanders delegate grabbed a chair and thought about tossing it.

How openly perverse a mockery of democracy is it that a significant portion of Hillary’s convention delegate lead over Sanders – enough to give her the nomination without a contest on the convention floor – derives from the 525 explicitly unelected and so-called superdelegates pledged to her before Sanders even declared his candidacy?

Adding more insult to insult and injury, Hillary plays the timeworn elite Democratic game of fake-progressive and pseudo-populist posing, trying to steal Sanders’ rhetorical thunder on her left while smilingly knifing him in the back.

The Hate Goes Back

Bernie supporters are right to be upset by the malicious and dirty ways that their candidate, and his campaign have been treated by the Clintons and others atop the dismal dollar-drenched and deeply conservative Democratic Party – and by the Clintons’ many friends in the dominant U.S. corporate and commercial media. At the same time, younger Sanders supporters above all need to understand that this is nothing new. It’s all just the latest reflection of the bottomless hatred that deeply conservative establishment and neoliberal Democrats have long had for left-leaning, “very liberal” (the pollsters’ term), and progressive/social-democratic Democrats. The atrocious and explicitly anti-democratic “superdelegates” were created by party elites precisely to prevent someone like Sanders – an actual progressive Democrat – from getting the party’s presidential nomination. It was an authoritarian party response to the left-leaning and antiwar George McGovern presidential campaign of 1972.

Democratic National Committee operatives and funders have long and regularly worked to marginalize progressive and seriously antiwar candidates in the party’s primaries. Doing that was one of Congressman and future Obama White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel’s top jobs in 2006.

Two years earlier, conservative Democratic Party operatives forbade the open expression of anti-Iraq War sentiment on the part of delegates to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, where John “Reporting for Duty” Kerry pledged to conduct the criminal occupation of Mesopotamia more effectively than George W. Bush. Prior to the convention, Kerry gave a nice raised middle figure to progressives in his party by announcing at a New York City fundraiser that “I am not a redistribution Democrat.”

One of Emmanuel’s jobs as Obama’s top assistant was to occasionally attend regular Tuesday night gatherings of Washington’s “progressive [liberal] movement” leaders. Big Brother Rhambo would scream and curse at the labor, environmentalist, human rights, and civil rights chieftains who dared to target conservative Congressional Democrats. “Anyone who went after Democrats,” Emmanuel said, was “fucking stupid.”

Hurting the People Who Voted Them In: Obama and the First Two Clinton Terms

When tens of thousands of progressive Democrats and others swarmed to protest the arch-Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union legislation in late February and early March of 2011, the mainstream Democrat Barack Obama did not deign to issue one word of support for their cause. Wisconsin’s Democratic Party leadership dismantled the protest movement and channeled its energies into a doomed campaign to recall Walker and replace him with a lame business Democrat (the listless Tommy Barret) who Walker had already trounced two years earlier.

Plenty of progressive Democrats joined actual anti-capitalists (like myself) and others in the many hundreds of Occupy Wall Street camps that were shut down with police state force by local Democratic Party-run governments across with the country. The repression was conducted with assistance from Obama’s Department of Homeland of Security, working in tandem with the nation’s leading financial institutions in the fall and early winter of 2011. As Naomi Wolff noted in The Guardian one year later, citing documents discovered by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, “the violent crackdown on Occupy last fall – so mystifying at the time – was not just coordinated at the level of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and local police. The crackdown, which involved, as you may recall, violent arrests, group disruption, canister missiles to the skulls of protesters, people held in handcuffs so tight they were injured, people held in bondage till they were forced to wet or soil themselves – was coordinated with the big banks themselves.”

Speaking of Obama and the financial elite, Obama held an interesting gathering with some of his rich friends at an event called The Wall Street Journal CEO Council a year after using Occupy’s rhetoric (among other things) to trounce Mitt “Mr. 1%” Romney. “When you go to other countries,” Obama said, “the political divisions are so much more stark and wider. Here in America, the difference between Democrats and Republicans–we’re fighting inside the 40-yard lines…People call me a socialist sometimes. But no, you’ve got to meet real socialists. (Laughter.)…I’m talking about lowering the corporate tax rate. My health care reform is based on the private marketplace.”

That was (among other things) yet another raised corporate Democratic middle finger aimed at progressive Democrats and everyone to their left. Now Obama hopes to cap his fake-progressive presidency and seal his “legacy” by securing post-election lame duck Congressional passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a secretive, richly corporatist 12-nation Pacific “free trade” (investor rights) agreement that promises to badly undermine wages, job security, environmental protections, and popular governance at home and abroad.

Obama’s time in the White House office has been a big wet kiss to the super-rich and powerful (whose wealth has concentrated yet further under his presidency) combined with a raised middle finger pointed in the direction of the party’s progressives and the nation’s working class majority. As the investigative researcher Eric Zuesse noted last summer, “Under Presidents G.W. Bush and Barack Obama, economic inequality in America has been more extreme, for more years, than under any Presidents in all of the previous U.S. history. But, at least, Bush didn’t pretend to care about it. Obama does. He pretended to a concern for justice which he never really had; he was always merely faking liberalism.”

Faking liberalism while serving the wealthy few was also a defining aspect of Bill and Hillary’s first two terms as co-presidents. During their first eight years atop the executive branch, the Clintons advanced the neoliberal agenda beneath faux-progressive cover in ways that no Republican president could have pulled off. Channeling Ronald Reagan by declaring that “the era of big government is over,” Bill Clinton collaborated with the right wing Congress of his time to end poor families’ entitlement to basic minimal family cash assistance. Hillary backed this vicious welfare “reform” (elimination), which has proved disastrous for millions of disadvantaged Americans.

Mr. Clinton earned the gratitude of Wall Street and corporate America by passing the arch-global-corporatist North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), by repealing the Glass-Steagall Act (which had mandated a necessary separation between commercial deposit and investment banking), and by de-regulating the burgeoning super-risky and high-stakes financial derivatives sector. He knew the score from day one of his presidency. As the famed Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward noted in his 1994 book The Agenda, Clinton said the following just weeks after winning the 1992 election: “we’re Eisenhower Republicans here…. We stand for lower deficits, free trade, and the bond market. Isn’t that great?” Clinton added that his post-election policy direction would “help the bond market” and “hurt the people who voted us in.”

The Clintons certainly do know how to get things done.

Hillary took the lead role in the White House’s efforts to pass a corporate-friendly version of “health reform.” Along with the big insurance companies the Clintons deceptively railed against, the “co-presidents” decided from the start to exclude the popular health care alternative – single payer – from the national health care “discussion.” (Obama would do the same thing in 2009.)

“David, tell me something interesting.” That was then First Lady Hillary Clinton’s weary and exasperated response – as head of the White House’s health reform initiative – to Harvard medical professor David Himmelstein in 1993. Himmelstein was head of Physicians for a National Health Program.  He had just told her about the remarkable possibilities of a comprehensive, single-payer “Canadian style” health plan, supported by more than two-thirds of the U.S. public.  Beyond backing by a citizen super-majority, Himmelstein noted, single-payer would provide comprehensive coverage to the nation’s 40 million uninsured while retaining free choice in doctor selection and being certified by the Congressional Budget Office as “the most cost-effective plan on offer.”

Anti-Progressive Neoliberal Trailblazers

There was no dishonesty in Hillary’s dismissive remark. Consistent with her neoliberal DLC world view, she really was bored and irritated by Himmelstein’s pitch. What the First Lady advanced instead of the Canadian system that bored her was a hopelessly complex and secretly developed system called “managed competition.” (It would be left to Obama to get fake-progressive, corporate- and “market”-friendly health insurance reform done.)

The contempt that Hillary shares with Bill, Rahm, and countless other top corporate Democrats for progressives in “their” party’s ranks should not be underestimated. In 1964, when Mrs. Clinton was 18, she worked for the arch-conservative Republican Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign. Asked about that high school episode on National Public Radio (NPR) in 1996, then First Lady Hillary said “That’s right. And I feel like my political beliefs are rooted in the conservatism that I was raised with. I don’t recognize this new brand of Republicanism that is afoot now, which I consider to be very reactionary, not conservative in many respects. I am very proud that I was a Goldwater girl.”

It was a telling reflection. The First Lady acknowledged that her ideological world view was still rooted in the anti-progressive conservatism of her family of origin. Her problem with the reactionary Republicanism afoot in the U.S. during the middle 1990s was that it was “not conservative in many respects.” This was the language of the Democratic Leadership Conference (DLC) – the right-wing Eisenhower Republican (at leftmost) tendency that worked to push the Democratic Party further to the Big Business-friendly right and away from its progressive base. Bill and Hillary helped trail-blaze that plutocratic “New Democrat” turn in Arkansas during the late 1970s and 1980.

Hillary can pretend to be against the TPP for vote-getting (and progressive Democrat-pleasing) purposes in the primary season. Top corporate lobbyists know that this is just populism-manipulating politics as usual and that she can be counted on to advance the “free trade” agenda once she gets back into the White House. As Secretary of State (2009-2013), Hillary repeatedly voiced strong support of the TPP. In Australia in November of 2012, she said that “TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements for open free, transparent, [and]fair trade…” She has already suggested that she will put the arch-neoliberal Goldman Sachs Democrat Bill Clinton in charge of White House economic policy once she returns.

Clintonite Calculations

Why are the Hillary campaign and its allies in the DNC so arrogantly disrespectful towards Sanders and his followers, even as the Senator from Vermont continues to rack up primary victories and come in with more than 40 percent of the vote? Don’t they worry that their contempt will make it more difficult for them to garner votes from Bernie’s millions of followers in the general election? (By some polling estimates, close to a third of Bernie’s backers won’t vote for her). “Unless Clinton is able to convince a large proportion of Sanders supporters to vote for her,” a progressive Democrat writes in the liberal weekly The Nation, “she’s unlikely to win in November.”

The Clintonites are calculating, I think, that identity politics and Trump’s related high negatives will hold the day. They expect The Donald to be so toxic to female, nonwhite, and immigrant voters as to make his victory impossible. They are banking also on lots of crossover votes and funding from Republicans who can’t stand Trump. They are counting on enough Bernie supporters acting in accord with Sanders’ advance promise to deliver his voters to the party’s eventual nominee (Hillary) in the name of blocking the horrible Republican Party (recently described by Noam Chomsky as possibly “the most dangerous organization in human history”) – a promise they expect Sanders to deliver on soon and during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this summer. And they expect the ugliness they’ve spewed at Sanders and his supporters and the related hostility that many progressive Democrats feel for the Clintons and the DNC to slip down Orwell’s memory hole once the quadrennial extravaganza boils down to either Hillary or Donald (two of the most widely disliked people in the nation and on Earth).

Don’t Forget the Hate – and Return It

But don’t forget the hate – the sheer unmitigated contempt that elite corporate Democrats from the Clintons on down feel for progressives in the ranks of “their” party, and indeed for anyone who challenges their superior wisdom and right to rule. As Ron Fournier noted in The Atlantic last February, “there has always been a [dark] side of the Clintons. They can’t fathom why anybody would challenge their motives, doubt their veracity, or criticize their policies. The Clintons’ self-conceptions are yoked to their sense of public service and joint commitment to making lives better—and they believe their ends justify their means…If you’re not for them, you’re not just an opponent—you’re beneath contempt.”

(Making lives better? As the economist Robert Pollin noted in the progressive Democratic journal The Nation earlier this year: “Clintonomics was a disaster for most Americans…Under Bill Clinton, Wall Street created a ruinous bubble, while workers lost wages and power… Bill Clinton’s presidency accomplished almost nothing to improve conditions for working people and the poor on a sustained basis. Gestures to the poor and working class were slight and back-handed, while wages for the majority remained below their level of a generation prior. Wealth at the top exploded with the Wall Street bubble. But the stratospheric rise in stock prices and the debt-financed consumption and investment booms produced a mortgaged legacy. The financial unraveling began even as Clinton was basking in praise for his economic stewardship.”)

I sensed the hate – and left the Democratic Party – decades ago. I wouldn’t vote for a “right-wing fanatic” (Arun Gupta) like Hillary Clinton – an arch-imperial war-mongering enemy of workers and friend of Wall Street – for less than $ 225,000 (the price of just one of Hillary’s Goldman Sachs speeches in 2013), four-fifths of which I would give away to radical working class and environmentalist activists. Personally, I recommend that young Sanders supporters return the contempt and refuse to act on Sanders’ forthcoming call for them to play the game of Lesser Evils. That toxic, viciously circular, and self-fulfilling game is part of how to we got in current big tangle of a situation wherein the top 1 percent owns more than 90 percent of the nation’s wealth along with most of government and the media while their soulless and cancerous profits system (capitalism) pushes humans and other living things over the edge of economic, military, authoritarian, racist, sexist and (last but not least) ecological catastrophe. “If voting changed anything,” the great American anarchist Emma Goldman once said, “they’d make it illegal.”

That said, there’s nothing wrong with lodging a Left protest vote, without electoral illusion, beyond the Democrats and Republicans, once aptly described by Upton Sinclair as “two wings of the same bird of prey.” Walk into that “coffin of class consciousness” (Alan Dawley) called the American voting booth and vote as if it might give life, not death (it would take a major and overdue Constitutional overhaul for that to happen) if you want. Be my guest. It takes all of two minutes. Then walk back out and turn to the real and more urgent politics of radical grassroots movement-building and revolutionary disruption. That’s every day work. One thing is clear: we will not vote ourselves out of this mess. You can take that to the bank.

Hillary Clinton’s Neocon Resumé

20/06/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, May 20, 2016

Liberal Democratic Hillary Clinton supporters get defensive when they hear that Mrs. Clinton is favored over Donald Trump by right-wing billionaires like Charles Koch and (with much more enthusiasm) by leading arch-imperial foreign policy Neoconservatives like Robert Kagan, Max Boot, and Eliot Cohen. But an honest look at Hillary’s record should make the support she is getting from such noxious, arch-authoritarian “elites” less than surprising.

My last essay reflected on Hillary’s deeply conservative, neoliberal, and pro-Big Business career in domestic U.S. politics and policy. This article turns to her foreign policy history, showing why it makes perfect sense that top imperial Neocons prefer Hillary over the at least outwardly “isolationist” and at anti-interventionist Trump.

Madeleine Albright

The first entry on Hillary’s Neocon foreign policy résumé is Madeleine Albright. As First Lady, Hillary successfully lobbied her husband Bill to appoint Albright – a right-wing Russia-hating Czech emigre dedicated to the provocative, ever-eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) – as Secretary of State (the nation’s top diplomat of all things) in 1997. Albright had already achieved notoriety as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in May of 1996 by telling CBS News reporter Leslie Stahl that the death of half a million Iraqi children due to U.S.-led “economic sanctions” was “a price worth paying” for the advance of U.S. goals in the Middle East. Ms. Albright’s “greatest diplomatic success was to obstruct diplomacy” (Diana Johnstone) – diplomacy that might have prevented the unnecessary and criminal U.S.-led NATO bombing of Serbia in the spring and summer of 1999. Even the legendarily blood-soaked U.S.-imperial strategist Henry Kissinger (a good friend and backer of Hillary) was taken aback by Albright’s determination to concoct an “excuse to start bombing.”


Another line on Hillary’s Neocon résumé is Serbia. She urged an initially reluctant Bill Clinton to launch what became a two-and-a-half month bombing campaign that killed many thousands of Serb civilians. In urging this carnage on the president, she used the false claim that lethal military force was required to stop Hitler-like “genocide” in Yugoslavia.

This would become a leading Hillary war theme: the disingenuous and cynical assertion that foreign governments had to be targeted and overthrown by the world’s only military superpower and its top European allies (claiming together to represent “the international community”) so as to protect innocents against modern-day Holocausts (like the one the Clinton administration unmentionably aided and abetted in Rwanda in 1994). It was a first and successful run for the thoroughly disingenuous Western principle of “R2P: Responsibility to Protect.”

The Clintons’ assault on Serbia helped create the corrupt and criminal state of Kosovo, where a massive U.S. military base stands guard over a nation that leads the world in the murderous harvesting of human organs.


A third entry is Hillary’s vote as a U.S. Senator in October of 2002 on behalf of a Congressional measure authorizing the Neocon-stocked George W. Bush administration to criminally and mass-murderously invade Iraq on criminally false pretexts. Mrs. Clinton did not admit that she’d “gotten it wrong” on Iraq until 2014 (in her tedious memoir Hard Choices). The Clintons, it should be remembered, were on board with Republican Necocons calling for Saddam Hussein’s removal from power by the late 1990s, prior to the 9/11 attacks that Hillary helped Bush criminally connect to Iraq.


A fourth line on Hillary’s Neocon résumé is Honduras. With her appointment as Barack Obama’s Secretary of State (of all things), Hilary’s first test on the foreign policy meaning of “change” came in late June of 2009. That’s when a right-wing business and military coup overthrew Honduras’s democratically elected and populist, Hugo Chavez-admiring President Manuel Zelaya. “It is easy,” the veteran left journalist and author Diana Johnstone notes, “to see what real change would have meant. The U.S. could have vigorously condemned the coup and demanded that the legitimate President be reinstated. Considering U.S. influence in Honduras, especially its powerful military bases there, U.S. ‘resolve’ would have given teeth to anti-coup protests…”

Instead, Secretary Clinton played along with the coup regime’s bogus claims that Zelaya had been trying to establish a dictatorship and that Hondurans had after the coup experienced “free and fair elections” that restored “democratic and constitutional government” in Honduras. The nation has been mired in corruption, poverty, misery, repression, and extreme inequality ever since.


A fifth line is the destruction of Libya in the spring of 2011. As with Serbia and Iraq, the United States targeted a self-designated “dictator” for regime change, spreading false flag propaganda about his supposed plans to “kill his own people” with air attacks and foreign mercenaries.  The removal of Momar Gadaffi – “a hero to black Africa” (Johnstone) because of his efforts to create a progressive pan-African Union and his decent treatment of Black Libyans – through U.S.-led Western force turned Libya into a jihadist nightmare zone. It discredited “R2P” across most of the world (though not in the heavily indoctrinated U.S.).


Hillary stood in the vanguard of the Obama administration’s R2P Libya policy. The same is true for the disastrous U.S.-led destabilization of Syria, which fueled a civil war that has killed more than 350,000 people while helping create the barbaric Islamic State. Bleeding Syria (whose jihadists received weapons illegally transferred by the CIA through Libya with the criminal assistance of Secretary Clinton) is the sixth line on Hillary’s Neocon résumé.

Russia and Ukraine

A seventh line is Russia. Mrs. Clinton has consistently sought to demonize and isolate Moscow, absurdly blaming the bloody Ukraine crisis on “Putin’s imperialism” and endlessly justifying Washington’s relentless provocation of Russia. Hillary’s close ally Victoria Nuland (a top member of Hillary’ State Department team) is Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and is married to the top imperial Neocon Robert Kagan.

Nuland played a central role in engineering a bloody right-wing coup that installed an anti-Russian and significantly fascist, neo-Nazi regime (in the name of “democracy”) in Kiev in early 2014. The coup reflected longstanding, Clinton-led U.S. efforts to absorb Russia’s immediate western neighbor into the NATO orbit. The leading Russian historian Stephen Cohen explained the development of the broader U.S. policy behind the Ukraine coup during a talk organized last year by the American Committee for East West Accord: “This [Ukraine] problem began in the 1990s, when the Clinton Administration adopted a winner-take-all policy toward post-Soviet Russia … Russia gives, we take. … This policy was adopted by the Clinton Administration but is pursued by every [major U.S.] political party [all two of them – P.S.], every President, every American Congress, since President Clinton, to President Obama. This meant that the United States was entitled to a sphere or zone of influence as large as it wished, right up to Russia’s borders, and Russia was entitled to no sphere of influence, at all, not even in Georgia… or in Ukraine (with which Russia had been intermarried for centuries).”

It’s not for nothing that the top right wing Ukrainian oligarchs like Victor Pinchuk have contributed many millions of dollars (more than any other nation or national elite) to the global Clinton Foundation – a so-called charity that advances the global neoliberal agenda (including the European integration of the resource-rich Ukraine) of the U.S. ruling class. Several “training” graduates of the Global Clinton Initiative (a wing of the Clinton Foundation) currently sit in the right-wing Ukrainian Parliament.

Hillary’s aggressive New Cold War-mongering contempt for Putin and Russia poses a significant threat of global nuclear war if and when she ascends to the White House.


An eighth line is Hillary’s chilling speech at the annual convention of the super-powerful Zionist lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last March. In her address, Mrs. Clinton condemned Palestinian terrorism without making any reference to the vicious and arch-criminal poverty, displacement, apartheid, mass murder, and repression that racist Israel imposes on its Palestinian subjects. She promised to invite Israel’s blood-drenched Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit the White House (a swipe at Obama’s testy relationship with Netanyahu) and slanderously accused what she called “the alarming boycott, divestment and sanctions movement known as BDS” (the anti-apartheid/anti-racist boycott Israel movement) of “antisemitism.”

Such ugly embrace of Israel and dismissal of Palestinian concerns is a longstanding and key part of the Neocon playbook. It’s nothing new for Hillary, who published a position paper in 2007 arguing that Israel’s right to exist as a “Jewish state” with “an undivided Jerusalem as its capital…must never be questioned.”

Numerous liberals, progressives, and leftists are understandably perturbed by the violence, racism, white nationalism, nativism, and misogyny that exudes from the rhetoric and persona of presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. But when it comes to the actual infliction of real violence primarily against non-white people (with all due respect for Serbian and Russian-speaking Ukrainians targeted by Hillary’s allies and agents) and including many women, Hillary has The (longstanding “private citizen”) Donald trumped, of course.

Another irony deserves mention: the streams of refugees and migrants that Trumps wants to build giant nationalist walls against are fed in no small part by the chaos Hillary has done so much to help the U.S. Empire generate in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East.

Your Input

None of which is to deny that a climate change-denying, white nationalist and nativist Trump presidency would be certain to inflict significant murder and mayhem at home and abroad.

You get your once-every-four-years “input” next November with a choice between two of the most widely and justly loathed people in the nation and world, my fellow Americans. Ain’t U.S. “democracy” grand?

I’ll be sending a contribution to the Green Party’s Jill Stein and voting for a Marxist this year (or the other way around), and I live in a contested state. Is this going to help the “fascist” Trump? I very much doubt it. As the incisive anti-capitalist and feminist Barbara MacLean recently explained on CounterPunch:

“Another argument I get from people is that if I don’t vote for Hillary we’ll end up with Trump. I don’t believe that will happen. It’s not in the best interest of the capitalists to crown a candidate who says that he wants to bring the jobs home and that he will build a wall to keep out the Mexicans who he has labeled rapists and murderers. After all, who will work the miserable jobs nobody else wants to work, picking fruit, cleaning toilets, doing hard labor off the books? And how can capitalists keep their profits high if they don’t set up their business in countries where they can pay people slave wages? No – not to worry – the capitalists will not let that happen…Socialist feminists know that we do not live in a true democracy and feminism only has a chance during and after the overthrow of capitalism. It doesn’t matter what color or gender the capitalists are.”

Hillary and the Corporate Elite

20/06/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, May 17, 2016

“Mainstream” U.S. media is struck by the “strange bedfellows” phenomenon whereby a number of right wing foreign policy neoconservatives and top business elites – including at least one of the notorious hard right-wing Koch brothers – are lining up with Democrat Hillary Clinton against the Republican Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential race. But what’s so strange about it? Trump is off the elite capitalist and imperial leash. He channels some nasty things that have long been part of the Republican Party playbook: frustrated white nationalism, racism, nativism, and male chauvinism.

At the same time, however, he often sounds remarkably populist in ways that white working class voters appreciate. He has been critical of things that elite Republicans (and elite corporate Democrats) hold dear, including corporate globalization, “free trade’ (investor rights) deals, global capital mobility, cheap labor immigration. He questions imperialist adventures like the invasion of Iraq, the bombing of Libya, the destabilization of Syria, and the provocation of Russia. He’s a largely self-funded lone wolf and wild card who cannot be counted to reliably make policy in accord with the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire. And he’s seizing the nomination of a political organization that may have ceased to be a functioning national political party.

Things are different with Hillary. She’s a tried and true operative on behalf of both the nation’s capitalist and imperialist ruling class who sits atop the United States’ only remaining fully effective national and major party – the Democrats. She’s a deeply conservative right-winger on both the domestic and the foreign policy fronts, consistent with the rightward drift of the Democratic Party (and the entire U.S. party system) – a drift that she and her husband helped trail-blaze back in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1964, when Mrs. Clinton was 18, she worked for the arch-conservative Republican Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign. Asked about that high school episode on National Public Radio (NPR) in 1996, then First Lady Hillary said “That’s right. And I feel like my political beliefs are rooted in the conservatism that I was raised with. I don’t recognize this new brand of Republicanism that is afoot now, which I consider to be very reactionary, not conservative in many respects. I am very proud that I was a Goldwater girl.”

It was a telling reflection. The First Lady acknowledged that her ideological world view was still rooted in conservatism of her family of origin. Her problem with the reactionary Republicanism afoot in the U.S. during the middle 1990s was that it was “not conservative in many respects.” She spoke the language not of a liberal Democrat but of a moderate Republican in the mode of Dwight Eisenhower or Richard Nixon.

The language was a perfect match for Hillary and Bill Clinton’s politico-ideological history and trajectory. After graduating from the venerable ruling class training ground Yale Law School, the Clintons went to Bill’s home state of Arkansas. There they helped “lay…the groundwork for what would eventually hit the national stage as the New Democrat movement, which took institutional form as the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC)” (Doug Henwood). The essence of the DLC was dismal, dollar-drenched “neoliberal” abandonment of the Democratic Party’s last lingering commitments to labor unions, social justice, civil rights, racial equality, the poor, and environmental protection and abject service to the “competitive” bottom-line concerns of Big Business.

The Clintons helped launch the New (neoliberal corporatist) Democrat juggernaut by assaulting Arkansas’ teacher unions (Hillary led the attack) and refusing to back the repeal of the state’s anti-union “right to work” law – this while Hillary began working for the Rose Law firm, which “represented the moneyed interests of Arkansas” (Henwood). When the Arkansas-based community-organizing group ACORN passed a ballot measure lowering electrical rates residential users and raising them for commercial businesses in Little Rock, Rose deployed Hillary to shoot down the new rate schedule as an unconstitutional “taking of property.” Hillary joined the board of directors at the low wage retail giant Wal-Mart.

During the Clintons’ time in the White House, Bill advanced the neoliberal agenda beneath fake-progressive cover, in ways that no Republican president could have pulled off. Channeling Ronald Reagan by declaring that “the era of big government is over,” Clinton collaborated with the right wing Congress of his time to end poor families’ entitlement to basic minimal family cash assistance. Hillary backed this vicious welfare “reform” (elimination), which has proved disastrous for millions of disadvantaged Americans. Mr. Clinton earned the gratitude of Wall Street and corporate America by passing the arch-global-corporatist North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), by repealing the Glass-Steagall Act (which had mandated a necessary separation between commercial deposit and investment banking), and by de-regulating the burgeoning super-risky and high-stakes financial derivatives sector. Hillary took the lead role in the White House’s efforts to pass a corporate-friendly version of “health reform.” Along with the big insurance companies the Clintons deceptively railed against, the “co-presidents” decided from the start to exclude the popular health care alternative – single payer – from the national health care “discussion.” (Barack Obama would do the same thing in 2009.)

The Clinton White House’s hostility to “big government” did not extend to the United States’ giant and globally unmatched mass incarceration state or to its vast global military empire. Clinton’s 1994 crime bill helped expand the chilling expansion of the nation’s mostly Black and Latino prison population. Clinton kept the nation’s “defense” (Empire) budget (a giant welfare program for high-tech military corporations) at Cold War levels despite the disappearance of the United States’ Cold War rival the Soviet Union.

Mrs. Clinton’s service to the rich and powerful has continued into the current millennium. As a U.S. Senator, she did the bidding of the financial industry by voting for a bill designed to make it more difficult for consumers to use bankruptcy laws to get out from crushing debt. As Secretary of State (2009-2012), she repeatedly voiced strong support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a secretive, richly corporatist 12-nation Pacific “free trade” (investor rights) agreement that promises to badly undermine wages, job security, environmental protections, and popular governance at home and abroad. In Australia in November of 2012, she said that “TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements for open free, transparent, [and]fair trade…”

Bernie Sanders supporters like to claim that they’ve been moving the eventual Democratic nominee Hillary “to the left.” But nobody actually moves a dyed-in-the wool Goldman Sachs-neoliberal-top-of-the Ivy League-Council of Foreign Relations Eisenhower Democrat like Hillary or Bill Clinton or Barack Obama to the left. All that might shift somewhat to the portside is such politicians’ purposively deceptive campaign rhetoric. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce knows this very well. A top Chamber lobbyist calmly observed last January that Mrs. Clinton will be on board with the unpopular TPP after the 2016 election. The Chamber understands that she has no choice right now but to pose as an opponent of the measure as part of her unavoidable election year job of impersonating someone who cares about the working class majority.

Nobody grasps the Machiavellian nature of her campaign rhetoric better than Hillary’s Wall Street funders. A report in the widely read insider online Washington political journal Politico last year was titled “Hillary’s Wall Street Backers: ‘We Get It.’” As Politico explained, “Populist rhetoric, many [of those backers] say, is good politics – but doesn’t portend an assault on the rich…It’s ‘just politics,’ said one major Democratic donor on Wall Street…many of the financial-sector donors supporting her …say they’ve been expecting [such rhetoric] all along.” One Democrat at a top Wall Street firm even told Politico that Hillary’s politically unavoidable populist rhetoric “is a Rorschach test for how politically sophisticated [rich] people are…If someone is upset by this it’s because they have no idea how populist the mood of the country still is.”

It’s nothing new. In his bitter and acerbic book on and against the Clintons, No One Left to Lie To (2000), the still left Christopher Hitchens usefully described “the essence of American politics” as “the manipulation of populism by elitism.” It’s a story that goes back as far as the 1820s but nobody has perfected the game more insidiously and effectively in the neoliberal era than the Clinton machine.

Partisan liberal Democrats don’t like to hear it, but, there’s nothing all that surprising about the Koch brothers turning to Hillary over Trump. It’s not at all difficult to believe that Bill Clinton will succeed in his recently reported efforts to court support from other Republican billionaires. It’s not at all surprising that Wall Street and corporate America prefer the good friend they know.

In a subsequent essay, I will show why there’s nothing all that strange or surprising about the support Hillary is getting from foreign policy neoconservatives.

This essay originally appeared on teleSur English.

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

Apologize for Nagasaki?

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Counterpunch, May 13, 2016

A recent New York Daily News headline runs as follows: “Obama to Pay Historic Visit to Hiroshima but Will Not Apologize for U.S. Dropping Atomic Bomb on Japanese City.”

Well, how about Nagasaki? Could Obama apologize for Nagasaki when he visits Japan later this month?

Don’t get me wrong.  Hiroshima was a massive crime against humanity on its own, without the too commonly neglected follow-up crime in Nagasaki. On August 6, 1945, the United States atom-bombed Hiroshima, an action that led to 146,000 Japanese civilian deaths within two months. The bomb was dropped in the name of “saving lives” even though top U.S. military and intelligence leaders understood that Japan was defeated and seeking surrender at the end of World War II.

This monumental crime marked the U.S as the only nation to use nuclear weapons on civilian populations.  It was perpetrated to demonstrate unassailable U.S. power to the world and especially to the Soviet Union in the post-WWII era. The purpose was clear, as Gar Alperovitz and numerous other historians have shown, with abundant primary source research.

United States President Harry Truman and his advisors knew very well that a defeated Japan (including its Emperor) had lost its willingness to keep fighting before the first atom bomb fell. As Alperovitz and others have demonstrated, the United States could have secured a formal Japanese surrender earlier in the spring or summer of 1945 simply by modifying U.S surrender terms requiring the abolition of the position of the Japanese Emperor.

Even without such modification, the White House and U.S. military command could simply have waited for the Soviet Union to declare war on Japan – an event that would certainly have precipitated surrender. As it happened, the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days after Hiroshima and after the Russians made their declaration.

Once wasn’t enough for Truman and others in the high U.S. military command. Truman was eating lunch when he was handed a message announcing the  successful atom-bombing of Hiroshima. “This,” he said, “is the greatest thing in history.” Later the same afternoon, he issued a warning to the Japanese government: “If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a reign of ruin from the air the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”

Alperovitz and others show that U.S. decision-makers saw the atom bomb as a way to end the war before the Soviet Union could enter the war against Japan and as a way to bolster early U.S. Cold War “diplomacy.” Hiroshima and Nagasaki were “chosen as targets because of their concentration of activities and population,” according to the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey.  The nuclear assaults on civilians in those two cities were not about “saving lives.”  They were about demonstrating and enhancing U.S. power in the post-WWII New World Order, wherein the triumphant U.S. (itself undamaged by a global catastrophe that took the lives of 50 to 60 million people, including 25 million Soviets) was determined to dictate the rules of international behavior and to put all potential deterrents to American world dominance (primarily the Soviet Union) in subordinate place.

Of critical significance, both Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been deliberately kept off the U.S. Air Force’s target lists for conventional bombing prior to the dropping of the atom bombs.  This was so that the demonstration effect of new powers of mass devastation possessed by the victorious U.S. could be maximized in both cities. Uncle Sam wanted the killing power of its beloved new weapons of mass destruction to be exhibited in the most shocking and awe-inspiring way possible.

The Nagasaki bombing does not get mentioned or remembered anywhere nearly as often as the Hiroshima one. It killed 80,000 Japanese civilians within two months.

If Hiroshima was criminal and unnecessary, how criminal and unnecessary was Nagasaki?

You don’t have to be a left critic of the American Empire to question the United States’ horrific decision to atom-bomb mass civilian populations in the summer of 1945. No less of a venerated U.S. military leader than World War Two Allied European Commander and future Republican U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower was appalled by and opposed to the decision to drop the atom bomb on Japan at the time.  Eighteen years later he told Newsweek magazine that “it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing” (it was two awful things, actually). His opposition and comment have gone down Orwell’s memory hole in the U.S., where generations of citizens and opinion makers have been taught to see Hiroshima and the less commonly noted crime in Nagasaki as necessary and even benevolent actions that “saved lives.”

How disgusting.

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

Reinvention and Whiplash

15/05/16 0 COMMENTS

One year ago, at a conference held in Chicago on Independent Left Politics, the International Socialist Organization’s Lance Selfa observed that the United States’ corporate and imperial Democratic Party had recurrently demonstrated a remarkable capacity to seemingly “reinvent itself” by coopting once-insurgent social forces and identities. Selfa cited the party’s development of Black Democratic political machines across urban America in the wake of the Black Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and 1970s. That development provided critical background for the dedicated imperialist and “vacuous to repressive neoliberal” (Adolph Reed, Jr. 1996) Barack Obama’s ascendency to the White House – something that helped boost the Democrats’ branding as the party of the nation’s racial minorities.

Selfa could also have noted the party’s success in cultivating female, feminist, gay, and Latino/a constituencies, organization, and networks. He might also have reflected on how Democrats sucked up the rhetoric of the 2011 Occupy Wall Street rebellion by branding themselves as “the party of the 99%” during the 2012 presidential election pitting Obama against “Mitt 1% Romney” (Never mind that Obama had dutifully served and protected the nation’s unelected dictatorship of finance capital throughout his first term or that his Department of Homeland Security worked with Democratic city halls across the country to dismantle Occupy with police state repression).

Not long after Selfa spoke, the conference was rocked by the announcement of a development bound to put a new twist on Democratic Party self-reinvention: the so-called independent and nominally socialist Bernie Sanders had decided to run for the U.S. presidency as a now fully acknowledged Democrat.

The announcement didn’t go over very well at the Chicago conference, but it didn’t ruffle many feathers atop the Democratic Party. As the presidential primary and caucus season unfolded, the mainstream Wall Street Democrat Hillary Clinton and the corporatist Democratic National Committee (DNC) seemed happy to have a “democratic socialist” throw his hat in the ring. As far as the right wing Clinton machine was concerned, the main threat to the party’s nomination came from the popular and liberal U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). With Warren lacking the courage or perhaps the blindly ambitious insanity to harness up for the marathon horse race, the Clintons face a different problem: the possibility that Hillary’s nomination would look too much like a pre-ordained, Wall Street-mandated coronation. It might all seem too much like the re-election of their good friend Paul Kagame in Rwanda (with 93% of the officially tabulated vote in 2010).

Hence the Clintonite utility of brass-lunged Bernie: he would provide some useful token opposition while helping drive voter interest and helping the Democrats provide a semblance of meaningful “debate over the issues.” Sanders would be unelectable, the Clintons and DNC figured, because nobody who calls herself a socialist would have any serious chance of garnering a U.S. major party presidential nomination. (Never mind that the top polling firm Gallup found in 2011 that American Millennials [18-29 year olds] responded more favorably to the word “socialism” than to “capitalism.”)

Looking back one year later, it clearly got a lot scarier and nastier than the Clintons expected. Bernie ended up doing much better – and getting his “good friend” Hillary and her husband a lot angrier – than Sanders himself probably anticipated. The Clintons and the DNC had to a play tougher and dirtier with Sanders than they had foreseen.

Still, Sanders never really went after Hillary. He didn’t go for the kill. He stayed away from the e-mail scandal and Benghazi, pretending that they were relevant issues only for the Republicans – something he would not have done if he’d been seriously looking to take down The Queen of Chaos. He failed to make a serious and militant pitch for the Black vote and to go after the Clintons’ vanguard historical role in the rightward neoliberal turn of the Democratic Party during the last quarter of the last century.

When it all plays out, he will have returned to his original “sheepdog” or “Judas goat” role, a part that progressive Democratic presidential “challengers” always play: drive voter turnout for “history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party” (as Kevin Phillips once described the Democrats) and deliver his supporters dutifully to that party’s Big Business-backed and imperialist nominee in the standard name of Lesser Evilism. The promised surrender to the “right wing fanatic Hillary Clinton” (Arun Gupta) – an enemy of workers, a lover of global-corporatist “free trade” (investor rights) deals, and an aggressive war-monger – is already underway. As the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins noted yesterday on Counterpunch:

“Bernie Sanders is on his way to an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, the candidate of War, Wall Street, and Wal-Mart. Sanders ran as a New Deal Democrat, but he will soon be campaigning for a plain old corporate New Democrat…To keep his troops engaged through this transition, Sanders will stage a few rules and platform fights at the convention. But rule changes are irrelevant to the real party power structure of candidate organizations and their corporate investors. Any platform planks won will be irrelevant as well. No corporate Democrat will feel bound by them.”

Along the way, Bernie has tried to help the Democratic Party brand itself as an organization where “socialists” can be heard, taken seriously, and influence policy. It is no such thing – not by a longshot. As Bernie picks his time to make clear his final “democratic socialist” fealty to the Wicked Wall Street War Witch, the Clintons are garnering support from supposedly “strange bedfellows” like the Koch brothers, top foreign policy neoconservatives (including Robert Kagan, Eliot Cohen, and Max Boot), Henry Kissinger, and other Republican billionaires and arch-imperialists who can’t stomach the populist- and isolationist-sounding rhetoric of The [white nationalist and misogynist] Donald (Trump), whose media-enabled “political revolution” (Bernie’s failed promise) leaves just one truly functional ruling class political organization standing in the U.S.: the Democrats. There’s every reason to believe that Bill Clinton will be successful in his recently reported efforts to court support from other Republican billionaires.

I hope Bernie-supporting Lesser Evilists have their seats adjusted for whiplash. The party of Bernie Sanders is becoming the party of Charles and David Koch for this wild election cycle, at least.

Reinvent that, DNC. As the debasing spectacle of the 2016 U.S. presidential election shapes up as a highly personalized, extremely infantilized, and frankly psychotic, hate-filled “race between the two most hated people in America” (Diana Johnstone), you almost have to admire the savage Orwellian perversity of the U.S. business ruled major party duopoly, under whose reign Charles Koch, Henry Kissinger, Robert Kagan, Paul Krugman, Richard Trumka, Tom Hayden, and Bernie Sanders (and numerous unnamed leftists well to Sanders’ and Hayden’s portside) can ultimately dance – or at least shuffle – together around the deeply conservative Hillary Clinton Maypole.

Meanwhile, beneath and beyond the seemingly interminable electoral extravaganza, the profits system’s ever- accelerating real-time assault on livable ecology pushes life on Earth ever closer to an apocalyptic cliff.

Revolution – the real thing – anyone?

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Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

Break Free or Burn in Hell

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Counterpunch, May 9, 2017

Some time ago, the environmentalist “Break Free” movement planned a number of protest actions around the world during the first two weeks of May. The protests have a simple and basic message: burning fossil fuels is unsafe and those resources must be left in the ground.

“Break Free’s” timing, it turns out, was eerily perfect. In the early evening of Tuesday, May 3rd, an epic wildfire broke out southwest of the Northwest Canadian city Fort McMurray. The giant blaze resulted in the mandatory evacuation of 12 communities in the sub-Arctic city’s area, located in the province of Alberta.

A Horrific Scene

By 7 p.m., Fort McMurray was placed under a mandatory evacuation order. Record breaking temperatures, reaching 91 °F combined with low relative humidity and strong winds to fuel the fire’s rapid growth. By last night (I am writing on Sunday, May 8th), the wildfire covered an area of more than 700 square miles (2,000 square kilometers), including areas still on fire and areas already burnt. The destruction is epic. BBC reported on a Hellish scene two days ago:

“The flames have already caused the evacuation of 80,000 people from the oil city of Fort McMurray, and thousands are still stuck to the north…The wildfire…[is] being propelled by high winds to the north-east towards Saskatchewan and was expected to reach the province by the end of Saturday Smoke from the fire has already spread there, and air quality statements have been issued for both Saskatchewan and North-West Territory. ‘Fire conditions remain extreme,’ said the Alberta Emergency Management Agency late on Saturday.

There is the possibility of rain on Sunday and Monday, but officials say the fire can only be put out by sustained heavy rains.

The blaze has ruined entire neighborhoods, with residents warned it could be some time before they can return. Officials say the power grid is damaged and the water not drinkable.

Some 1,600 homes and other buildings have been lost …Local DJ Chris Byrne was allowed back into Fort McMurray to check on the damage. He told BBC Newshour what he found. ‘Complete blocks [are] levelled and charred and it looks like a horrific scene.’”

The spectacle in northern Alberta is practically apocalyptic. The giant rolling firestorm has created its own thundercloud, replete with lightning that has helped spread the blaze.

The Fingerprints of Climate Change

What’s it got to do with fossil fuels? Quite a lot. Rachel Cleetus is the lead economist and climate policy manager for the Union of Concerned Scientists. She told CNN that climate change, which is driven by humanity’s excessive extraction and burning of carbon-rich fossil fuels, is “a significant factor” behind the momentous Canadian inferno. “We know the northern latitudes are warming faster than anywhere else….You definitely see the fingerprints of climate change,” Cleetus said.

According to CNN columnist John Sutter:

“A ridge in the jet stream, associated with rapid warming in the Arctic, also has helped lock in a high pressure zone over northwest Canada. That likely contributed to the fire conditions, experts said….Fires only are expected to get bigger and costlier as humans keep pumping heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, primarily by burning fossil fuels for heat, electricity and transportation. A 2011 report from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, for example, says certain parts of the American West could see up to a 650% increase in the median area burned by wildfires each year if temperatures rise another 1 degree Celsius. Humans already have warmed the climate about 1 degree Celsius compared with temperatures before the industrial revolution.”

“To avoid 2 degrees of warming, which world leaders say is the danger zone for climate change, society basically needs to ditch fossil fuels between 2050 and 2100 — a monumental task but one researchers say is achievable. …Meanwhile, wildfire seasons already are getting longer. In Alberta, the province where Fort McMurray is located, the fire season now officially starts in April, Flannigan said. It used to start in May. ‘In recent years we’ve actually had forest fires in December, which doesn’t have any historical analog,’ he told me….In parts of the western United States, there no longer is a ‘fire season.’ The entire year is now fair game. ‘Climate change has led to fire seasons that are now on average 78 days longer than in 1970,” the U.S. Forest Service said in an August 2015 report. ‘The U.S. burns twice as many acres as three decades ago and Forest Service scientists believe the acreage burned may double again by mid-century.’”

“We need to grasp where we come into the picture on fires like the one in Canada and plan accordingly. That means better fire management — including discouraging the growth of towns in fire-prone areas and creating emergency funds to help cash-strapped agencies fight these bigger, badder fires. It also, crucially, means working to eliminate fossil fuel use as quickly as possible” (emphasis added).

That’s a guy at CNN writing that – not Bill McKibben, James Hansen, or Naomi Klein being interviewed on Democracy Now!.

The Gateway to Canada’s Tar Sands Crime

I’ve saved the mostly darkly fitting fact of the Canadian wildfire story for last. If you’ve read this far you probably already know this but it must be noted here anyway: Fort McMurray is a remote boomtown with a rapidly rising population and business activity driven primarily by the extraction of Canadian tar sands oil. The city is smack in the heart of one of Canada’s leading centers of planet-baking oil production, right beneath the Athabasca Oil Sands, whose dirty and exceptionally carbon-rich oil is extracted on a giant scale by great eco-cidal and transnational Big Carbon firms including Syncrude, Suncor Energy, CNRL, Shell, and Nexen. Fort McMurray, named after a factor (William McMurray) with the fur-trading, merchant-capitalist Hudson Bay Company in 1870, is “the gateway to Canada’s oil sands region, a hotbed of fossil fuel extraction” (Sutter).

It is also surrounded by vast swaths of primeval northern “tiaga” boreal forest, ready for burning in the hot and crispy climate brought to us by 71 years of extreme global petro-capitalism. The burning and forest destruction becomes a cause as well as a consequence of anthropogenic (really capitalogenic) global warming.

Like Hurricanes Katrina (2005) and Sandy (2012) and numerous other climate-related. not-so natural disasters, the Canadian Wildfire of 2016 is yet another attempt by Mother Nature (I write on Mother’s Day) to wake humanity up to the deadly costs of the fossil fuel addiction imposed on it by – and this is something you won’t hear on CNN or for that matter from McKibben or Hansen (you can hear it from Klein) – the ruling class masters of capital [1]. We cannot depend on the carbon-caked corporate and financial powers that be or their growth- and accumulation-addicted profits system to help us avert environmental catastrophe, which is unfolding before our very eyes and not just those of “our grandchildren.”


1, For elaboration on this very critical point, please see Paul Street, “Anthropocene or Capitalocene?” teleSur English, October 27, 2015 and, above all, the brilliant Marxist environmentalist geographer-historian-sociologist Jason Moore’s book Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital (Verso, 2015).

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

Hey, Berniebros, Leave Them Kids Alone

15/05/16 0 COMMENTS

All in all, you’re just another brick in the wall

Pink Floyd

Recently on a trip to San Diego State University, a left political scientist raised with me an interesting question regarding the age demographics of Bernie Sanders’ most fervent supporters. The Sandernista enthusiasm of Bernie’s younger backers made more sense to the political scientist than did that of many of Sanders’ older fans, including a fair number of middle-aged and senior lefties. For many youthful voters, the 2016 presidential carnival is their first encounter with an election cycle including a leftish progressive Democrat campaigning (or claiming to campaign) for good social and democratic things like free college, big green jobs programs, decent wages, and progressive taxation. Those young citizens, workers, and voters have to go through the disillusionment that follows when this Democrat folds and lines up behind his party’s corporate and imperial candidate in the name of “realistic” Lesser Evilism. The electoral newcomers need to see the great progressive hope exposed as just another brick in the wall of the corporate party duopoly, his “sheepdog” role revealed: to herd reasonably alienated voters back into the corporate-managed social movement cemetery and radicalism-butchering slaughterhouse that is the Democratic Party.

Every Four Years

Older U.S. progressives have been through this quadrennial drill before. Listen, for example, to the left commentator John Stauber (63 years old) reflecting on CounterPunch last week about the beginning of Bernie Sanders’ surrender to Hillary Clinton. Stauber knows it’s an old story. “It’s the Democrat’s political equivalent of the Bill Murray movie classic Groundhog Day,” Stauber writes, “except the progressive candidate never wins the girlfriend, that is, the nomination, in the end.  Instead, the Bernie Sanders, the Howard Deans, the Pat Browns, and the Jesse Jacksons, the progressive champions of their election cycle, change themselves from watchdogs and guard dogs to lap dogs, ensuring that cynical and outraged progressives follow their champion-cum-Pied Piper to become advocates for defeating the Republicans in November…The Democratic apparatchiks who run Bernie’s campaign,” Stauber adds, “are preparing their masses for the inevitable, pulling them into the ceremony that, not unlike a religious grieving event, prepares them for death and as a saintly rationalizing army of Hillary Clinton supporters (emphasis added).” Same as it ever was.

I’m sure the veteran and leading U.S. Marxist thinker Michael Yate (70 years old) isn’t surprised by Bernie’s inevitable submission to the Clinton machine and the Democratic National Committee. In his latest book The Great Inequality, Yates writes that:

“Money calls the tune in U.S. politics. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every four years by presidential candidates…Getting access to this cash necessitates a close relationship between almost all persons seeking high political office and potential wealthy donors, as well as cash-rich corporations…It is now nearly impossible to either get a man or woman dedicated to popular democracy elected or to secure passage of progressive legislation. What chance would an office-seeker dedicated to a robust expansion of social security, universally publicly-funded healthcare, better labor laws, sustainable, publicly-subsidized small-scale organic farming, and an end to fracking and other environmentally calamitous practices [i.e., Bernie Sanders] have of winning an election? Candidates are thoroughly vetted before any money is forthcoming. ‘Troublemakers’ are eliminated from the start.”

Also unsurprised by Sanders’ inevitable surrender, surely, is the veteran Left historian and activist Laurence Shoup (72 years old). Shoup wrote the following in the spring of 2008:

Every four years many Americans put their hopes in an electoral process, hopes that a savior can be elected – someone who will make their daily lives more livable, someone who will raise wages, create well-paying jobs, enforce union rights, provide adequate health care, rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, and end war and militarism. In actuality, the leading ‘electable’ presidential candidates have all been well vetted by the hidden primary of the ruling class and are tied to corporate power in multiple ways. They will stay safely within the bounds set by those who rule America behind the scenes, making sure that members of the plutocracy continue to be the main beneficiaries of the system…It is clear that, at best, U.S. ‘democracy’ is a guided one; at its worst it is a corrupt farce, amounting to manipulation, with the larger population objects of propaganda in a controlled and trivialized electoral process.”

This is the kind of the thing that veteran Leftists, Old and New, have long said, based on many years of often painful experience and observation.

“Only a Small Part of Politics”

Many of Sanders’ older fans are disappointed that Sanders will clearly end up as another episode in the bigger stories told by Stauber, Yates, Shoup and other veteran radical intellectuals (myself included). But I doubt that the nation’s leading left intellectual Noam Chomsky (87 years old) is losing much sleep about the Sanders fade. As Chomsky noted nearly 12 years ago, on the eve of the 2004 presidential election:

“Americans may be encouraged to vote, but not to participate more meaningfully in the political arena. Essentially the election is a method of marginalizing the population. A huge propaganda campaign is mounted to get people to focus on these personalized quadrennial extravaganzas and to think, ‘That’s politics.’ But it isn’t. It’s only a small part of politics…The urgency is for popular progressive groups to grow and become strong enough so that centers of power can’t ignore them. Forces for change that have come up from the grass roots and shaken the society to its core include the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the peace movement, the women’s movement and others, cultivated by steady, dedicated work at all levels, every day, not just once every four years…sensible [electoral] choices have to be made. But they are secondary to serious political action. The main task is to create a genuinely responsive democratic culture, and that effort goes on before and after electoral extravaganzas, whatever their outcome” (emphasis added).

Chomsky’s sentiments were echoed four years later by his good friend Howard Zinn, who reflected on the “the election madness” he saw “engulfing the entire society including the left.” It was nothing new, Zinn observed:

“the election frenzy…seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls… And sad to say, the Presidential contest has mesmerized liberals and radicals alike. … But before and after …two minutes [in a voting booth], our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.”

Chomsky has said some polite and supportive-sounding things about the Sanders campaign but always with two key qualifications: (i) Bernie had little chance of winning the Democratic Party presidential nomination because of big money’s influence and related institutional barriers in the party; (ii) progressive change isn’t achieved primarily through the nation’s mass marketed and candidate-centered once-every-4-years presidential election spectacles. Last Fall, in a teleSur English interview that Left Liberal progressive Democrats misleadingly touted as a ringing endorsement of Sanders’ campaign, Chomsky said the following:

“Take, say, the Bernie Sanders campaign, which I think is important, impressive. He’s doing good and courageous things. He’s organizing a lot of people. That campaign ought to be directed to sustaining a popular movement that will use the election as a kind of an incentive and then go on, and unfortunately it’s not. When the election’s over, the movement is going to die. And that’s a serious error. The only thing that’s going to ever bring about any meaningful change is ongoing, dedicated, popular movements that don’t pay attention to the election cycle.”

Sixteen Reasons

What explains the willingness of so many more smart, serious, and mature U.S. lefties than usual to jump on board the latest doomed progressive-Democrat electoral train this time around – and then to feel angry and disappointed by the latest progressive “could a been a contender’s” predictable and predicted downfall …this even though the Sanders adventure sucked up (as usual) vast quantities of energy and resources that would have been better invested in building capacities for Chomsky and Zinn’s “more urgent” and serious political action beneath and beyond the “personalized quadrennial extravaganzas”? My sense is that it comes down to sixteen basic considerations, sentiments, and calculations in the minds of such older lefties:

1/ A considerable (I think excessive) degree of respect for the fact that Sanders has been willing to (deceptively) describe himself as a democratic socialist – this even though Sanders is at leftmost a social-democratically inclined New Deal liberal who refuses to fundamentally criticize the capitalist profits system and its evil twin imperialism.

2/ The “realistic” conclusion that real, radical socialist revolution is simply off the historical table in the “conservative” United States and that the most one can possibly expect to achieve in the U.S. is a moderate reform. (Too bad if it’s becoming increasingly clear that a radical eco-socialist reconstruction of U.S. and global society is required if humanity is to have any shot at a decent future).

3/ A sense that the depth and degree of misery, inequality, and environmental degradation imposed by U.S. and global capitalism on the American people might combine with the terrible and transparently right-wing record and flaws of Hillary Clinton and her campaign – and with Sanders’ laser-like focus on the unifying issue of inequality – to make it more realistic than ever before to dream about a leftish liberal progressive getting the Democratic presidential nomination and winning the White House.

4/ Sheer horror at the long hideous arch-corporatist and aggressive imperialist record of Hillary and Bill Clinton and at the Clinton team’s socio-pathological capacity for fake-progressive/-liberal posing.

5/ Surprise at the degree of Sanders’ early success with voters (I have been unsurprised: Bernie has done about as well I expected given the savage inequalities that so badly disfigure New Gilded Age America and the many uninspiring and indeed disturbing, even terrifying aspects of Hillary Clinton’s horrid personality, career, and campaign).

6/ Surprise at Sanders’ remarkable success in raising large amounts of campaign money on the basis of small middle and working class contributions (that is something that I, for one, did not anticipate, and that got many Sandernistas fantasizing about Bernie doing a campaign finance end run around the “hidden primary of the ruling class”)

7/ An absence of faith in the capacity of non-affluent Americans to form the bottom-up social movements and direct action capacities Chomsky, Zinn, and others (the present writer included) have tended to privilege over electoral efforts.

8/ A belief that the Sanders’ campaign might prove to be a vehicle for such grassroots movements, capacity, and disruption.

9/ A “try anything” sense of desperation regarding the states of the nation, democracy, the world, and livable ecology – something that can predispose one to look for progressive hope in major party presidential candidate and/or a Roman Catholic Pope who seems to want to roll back the worst excesses of capitalism.

10/ A lack of faith in the relevance and power of third and fourth party challenges to the reigning plutocratic U.S. party system and the economic oligarchy it serves and protects.

11/ A belief that the Sanders campaign might contribute to the unravelling and even implosion of the Democratic Party – this despite the fact that Sanders repeatedly and from the beginning stated his deep and abiding allegiance to that deeply conservative organization (which he didn’t really “come into” for the presidential campaign since he’d been a de facto Democrat since at least the early 1990s) and to its eventual nominee (Bernie’s “good friend” Hillary).

12/ A desire to stick it to the evil Clintons and Clintonites and expose them for the deeply conservative corporatists that they are.

13/  A desire not to look like cynical and bitter old nay-saying curmudgeons in relation to the Bernie enthusiasm of many younger, and newly turned-on voters.

14/ A sense that Sanders couldn’t be any more critical of U.S. foreign policy (imperialism, that is) than he has been (which is hardly at all) given the fact that “hey, he’s running for president of the American Empire.”

15/ A belief that Sanders would stand a better chance than the highly unpopular Hillary of defeating the lunatic Republican candidate (Trump or Cruz) in November.

16/ A belief that Sanders has helped advance positive discussion of socialism in the U.S.

Kernels of Understandability

While I have been sternly critical of the Sanders from the supposedly “perfectionist,” “ultra-radical,” and “sectarian” Left from the start, I think there has been what I might call a kernel of understandability in most of these considerations or rationales for Sandernista sentiment. It is a big deal that millions of voters and especially young ones have been willing to mark ballots for a “socialist.” Even if Bernie isn’t actually a socialist, that simple fact reflects mass hunger for substantive radical-democratic politics and change. It is a good and hopeful sign in the world’s most powerful capitalist state, where anti-socialism has long been something like a national religion. (The main credit here goes to the terrible performance of U.S. and global capitalism, not of course to Bernie. The ubiquitous misery and precarity – economic, political, and especially environmental – generated by the living bourgeois dictatorship has been creating new openness to socialism on the part of younger Americans for many years now.)

Hillary and the Clinton machine are in fact hideously corporatist, evil, neoliberal, imperialist, and militaristic. They have a long and bloody track record. They should elicit horror.

Hillary is a deeply flawed and unpopular candidate with a closet full of skeletons. She’s no match for her husband or even for Barack Obama when it comes to playing that great game of major party American politics: “the manipulation of populism by elitism” (Christopher Hitchens). And Sanders has in fact been out-performing her in match-up polls with Trump and Cruz.

The inequality of wealth and income that Sanders has been talking about more directly and insistently than any major party presidential record in memory is shockingly advanced. It carries numerous terrible and interrelated consequences for the nation’s (and indeed the world’s) social, economic, political, physical, mental, and environmental health.

It has been remarkable how much money Sanders has raised outside the elite corporate and financial donor networks that tend to dominate elections for higher office in the U.S.

Sanders did become something of a potential “troublemaker” for Wall Street Democrats. He came too close for big money comfort. He was certainly “eliminated [further] from the start” than those Democrats would have preferred.

As Ralph Nader has acknowledged, Sanders could not have achieved the success he did anywhere but through the Democratic Party’s caucus and primary system. Declaring for the White House as a third party candidate would have relegated him to the margins thanks to the American System’s steep constitutional and institutional biases (including media discrimination) against third and fourth parties.

Third party campaigns and candidates do have very little to show for themselves in recent or overall U.S. history.

Labor, civil rights, environmental, and other social movements outside and beneath electoral politics do not have a lot of institutional, cultural, and political presence in American life. They cannot point to very many substantive victories for ordinary people in the U.S. right now.

It is very much to be desired than the Sanders campaign or experience provide impetus to grassroots social movement formation beneath and beyond the latest quadrennial electoral extravaganza. Sanders has said some things that seem to suggest that he understands that.

Desperation certainly is understandable, especially on ecological grounds, as the global warming jet(stream) taxis on to the takeoff run[a]way. A carbon-fueled environmental catastrophe brought to us by the extreme global capitalism of the last seven decades is already underway and that made it difficult to completely dismiss a major party presidential candidate who opposed fracking and said that climate change was the nation’s “top security threat.”

It has at times been interesting, enjoyable, and instructive to see the Sanders campaign shed light on contradictions in the Democratic Party. It’s been useful, for example, to see Paul Krugman, Paul Starr, Tom Hayden, John Lewis, Gloria Steinem, and other purported progressive heroes exposed as power-serving shills for the right-wing fanatic Hillary Clinton. It’s been educationally helpful for radicals to note elite Democrats being forced to make vicious and idiotic arguments against candidate (Sanders) who has run in accord with majority progressive policy sentiments on numerous basic policy issues.

It would, of course, be a big deal – a significant progressive victory with many-sided positive implications – to win single-payer national health insurance (Improved Medicare for All) in the U.S.

It has been nice and hopeful to hear some of leftish things that Bernie’s new friend Pope Francis says about and against capitalism, war, and climate change.

Grab Some Bench

Okay, so it all seemed to make a certain amount of progressive sense for many seasoned lefties. I get that. What now – now that Bernie is laying off staffers, saying that he’s going to the Democratic Convention to fight over the party’s irrelevant platform (NOT the party nomination), and going on CBS’s “Face the Nation” (last Sunday) to say (as promised from day one of the Sanders “insurgency”) that “of course the [unmentionably arch-capitalist and imperialist] Democratic Party needs to be unified” (under Neocon Hillary)? It’s time for seasoned Left Liberal Sandernistas to eat some humble pie. They should say “hey, we had our shot” and then step aside for more militant and radical activists who are more immune to election madness and to what I call Mad Candidate Disease come to the fore.

I’ll never forget the moment on March 12, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin, when one of that state’s “progressive” Democrat senators got up in front of at least 30,000 angry marchers and told them to take down their protest posters and pick up their (doomed) Scott Walker Recall Election clipboards. A leading Marxist activist in my vicinity could be heard saying, “he means ‘thanks a lot, you can all go home now. We’ll take it from here.’”

We all know how well that worked out for the great people’s revolution. Now it’s time progressive electoralists to sit back and let others pick up the ball. They don’t necessarily have to quit or leave the team, but it’s time – if I might use a sports analogy – for them to “grab some bench” and to reflect on how to shift their approach for the new radical times. It’s time to them to be taken off the starting team and become comfortable with a different, supportive, and second-string role: back up those who have shown their ability to resist the deadly siren song of U.S. electoral politics.

The people’s and workers’ struggle needs a more serious and radical starting lineup and game plan. The 2015-16 squad went about as far as people can go playing by the reigning major league and party system rules. It was fairly impressive. They took some good swings up at the plate. But, well, guess what? It wasn’t even in the revolutionary ballpark. The ruling class sent them back to the bench with their bat in their hands, as usual.

Enough with the bourgeois electoral-ism for now, please. “If voting made any difference,” the great American left anarchist Emma Goldman once said, “they’d make it illegal.” Elections, candidates, and parties come and go, though now the quadrennial extravaganza seems to last forever (it kind of does, actually, especially on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News). Their outcomes are largely beyond our control. What is not outside our sphere of influence is the ability to build genuinely radical and lasting through-thick-and thin peoples’ and workers’ power organizations to build a serious movement for what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called near the end of his life “the real issue to be faced”: “the radical reconstruction of society itself.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 5.05.31 PM-1

Beyond “Left” Astroturf

It’s long past time for Democratic Party-linked and electoral politics-addicted activists and NGOs to be discredited as social movement leaders. The People for Bernie PAC and its allies in the top-down activist community – Progressive Democrats of America, Democratic Socialists of America, 350.org, and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (the Bill Moyers-heralded citizen action group that invited Bernie to come as a Democrat to the first-in-the-nation presidential Caucus when it should have been pouring all its energies into blocking a hideous eco-cidal project [the recently approved Bakken Pipeline] in their state) – want to run grassroots activism between elections. They have called for a two-day so-called People’s Summit to be held in Chicago sometime between the California primary in early June and the Democratic National Convention’s Hillary coronation in late July.

It’s not enough for the Left Liberal electoral progressives to suck up most of the progressive energy in the national room across the seemingly interminable (disclosure: I live in Iowa) primary season. No, they want to own and run “the popular movement” so as to keep it locked down for the Democrats and the permanent major party and election-obsessed mind game into the general election and beyond – before, during, and after the next debasing candidate extravaganza, and the next one and…forever and anon

This is very much to be shunned. A perceptive report by the Left journalist and commentator Arun Gupta is titled “Democracy Sleepwalking.” It tells the depressing story of how the establishment U.S. Democratic Party-affiliated progressive Liberal Left – the AFL-CIO, MoveOn, NOW, NAACP, SEIU, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Common Cause, Public Citizen, Codepink, Jobs with Justice, People for the American Way (“many of which will throw their weight behind [Hillary Clinton and rest of] the Democratic Party in this year’s election”) – recently staged a restrained series of so-called Democracy Awakening protests in Washington. The purpose of the event was to buttress Sanders’ calls for campaign finance reform, enhanced voter rights, increased voter registration, and a constitutional amendment to end the dominance of private money in public elections.

“The gathering was a throwback to soporific pre-Occupy Wall Street protests,” Gupta writes. “There was the laundry list of speakers and causes. Lefty celebrities present, the Rev. William Barber of North Carolina’s Moral Mondays, and past, commentator Jim Hightower, and the house protest band, Sweet Honey in the Rock. Pete Seeger was spared no rest, namechecked by a tin-eared warbler at the closing event.” Attending the protests and interviewing (and trying to interview) participants, Gupta found:

— Modest turnout on the part of “subdued” retirees, staff, and interns who stuck to tightly scripted talking points on behalf of moderate and “pragmatic” demands centered on reforming the U.S. political process.

— A strange disconnect between the event organizers’ power-friendly “pragmatism” and their call “the impossible: that [campaign finance reform] bills be passed by a Republican majority that has tied up Washington until November’s vote determines who wins control of all three federal branches at stake.”

— Movement “field generals” and communications officers policing interviews to make sure that younger marchers stick to the official moderate-liberal talking points.

— A curious disconnect between “high-stakes rhetoric” bemoaning the death of democracy and livable ecology on one hand and consistent calls for remarkably restrained reform gained by working within the system on the other hand.

— Grandiose and historically inappropriate references to the modest gathering as being in the vein and tradition of great past Civil Rights confrontations like Selma and like the Occupy Movement of late 2011.

— A widespread misplaced faith in the progressive relevance of voting combined with standard claims of readiness to mark ballots for “whoever was the nominee in the fall, meaning Hillary Clinton.”

“It seemed churlish,” Gupta writes, “to point out that Clinton is the most consistent Republican in the race, protector of Wall Street, enthusiastic war-monger, enemy of workers, and supporter of free-trade deals, austerity, and the war on terror.”

This is the same kind of dismal fake-progressivism and Democratic Party-captive Astroturfery we can expect at “the People’s Summit” next June. As currently planned, the gathering will be an exercise in upper-middle class- and NGO-coordinated Astroturf: fake-grassroots movement-building captive to the partisan and electoral agenda of the Democratic Party, which means subordinated to the arch-neoliberal and militaristic Clinton machine and the corporatist, populism-manipulating DNC. It will be absurdly over-focused on the irrelevant Democratic Party platform, not actual rank-and-file movement-building.

For a Radical Education Project

My favorite part of Gupta’s must-read essay comes near its end, where he reflects on his interaction with some young and radical and direct-actionist class-struggle activists who attended the Democracy Awakening events:

“Some of the most perceptive protesters at the Democracy Awakening were three teenagers decked out with a red-and-black flag, Wobbly t-shirts, and anarchist class-war politics. But they were not there to rain on the parade. Rob said, ‘I love to see people out here and standing up for democracy, but I wish there were more.’ Richie said, ‘We have to treat the root cause,’ adding that the liberal groups involved were ‘fighting the symptoms.’ For Stefan, who supported the effort as it was ‘pushing politics to the left,’ the missing ingredient was “worker power.”

They don’t have the answers, but they understand how power works better than the paid strategists, communications specialists, social media experts, lawyers, and organizers behind Democracy Spring and Democracy Awakening. If liberals wanted to build a movement, one that could create the type of social disruption and defiance that would lead to significant political reforms, they would fund radical, visionary organizers and give them free reign to experiment. But that movement would quickly spiral out of the control of liberal groups and unions that have been deeply invested in and reliant upon existing political and economic structures.” (emphasis added)

Indeed. We need more radical Robs, Richies, and Stefans (and Rhondas, Julie, and Susans) and fewer establishment left pragmatic electoralists like Jim Hightower, Rev, Barber, Katrina Vanden-Heuvel, John Nichols, and Bernie Sanders in the vanguard of popular struggle in the U.S. As Yates recently argued in Truthout: titled “Let’s Get Serious About Inequality and Socialism”:

“If we are serious about socialism, we must say, as often as possible, what it is. We must initiate and engage in a radical education project, in our organizations, in our conversations and in writing. And we must take steps now to begin to move toward socialism, divorcing ourselves from the tyranny of the marketplace. Commit ourselves to radical communal self-help measures, in the spirit of Freedom Summer during the civil rights movement; the community social service programs of the Black Panther Party; the housing projects of some labor unions; the collective cleaning, food provisioning and educating of Occupy Wall Street; the community gardens being constructed in Detroit; urban farming in Cuba and thousands of other contemporary and historical examples. Work to reduce our own unnecessary consumption. Offer solidarity to all oppressed people. Refuse to join the military. Demand control of our unions and all levels of government. And of great importance, begin to build independent and unabashedly radical political organizations, including a working-class political party.”

Beyond Nationalist War Socialism

It isn’t only that radical anti-capitalists (of all ages) are more likely to actually win things for working class people (the U.S. majority) and to carry struggles down to the “root cause” (capitalist class rule). It’s also that real, non-Astroturf radicals (young and old) understand the need to forthrightly oppose U.S. capitalism’s evil twin, U.S. imperialism. Anti-imperialism (shockingly absent from the Sanders’ “insurgency”) is imperative for any meaningful Left revival in the U.S. for reasons moral and practical. The moral imperative is obvious: the U.S. Pentagon and its vast “empire of bases” (Chalmers Johnson) is the world’s biggest murdering and maiming machine (it is also the world’s leading carbon-emitter, by the way) and it remains switched on Kill. It is spiritually indefensible for the United States to spend many hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars each year on Washington’s giant planetary network of slaughter, occupation, regime-change, and mayhem. The U.S. “defense” (empire) budget accounts for half the world’s military spending. It is disgraceful for the U.S. to spend public money on war and war preparations when nearly half the world’s population, 2.8 billion people, try to survive on less than $2 a day; when 16 million U.S. children – 22% of all U.S. children (including 38% of Black U.S. children) – live in families with income below the federal government’s notoriously Dickensian poverty level.

The practical imperative for any social-democratic progressive worth his or her salt to oppose their nation’s giant military-industrial complex and global Empire arises from some very basic facts. The progressive domestic programs that candidate Sanders claimed to passionately want are fiscally pre-empted by the giant Pentagon budget, which eats up 54% of federal discretionary spending. The Pentagon System is a vast, wealth-concentrating state-capitalist racket for high-tech “defense” firms (Lockheed Martin and Raytheon et al.). It provides the protection, chaos, and punishment muscle behind the U.S.-run neoliberal global-capitalist order – the world profits system that is destroying lives, communities, and livable ecology at home and abroad. It’s a global system, something that makes the “narrow nationalism” (Yates) of Sanders’ campaign ill-suited to serious socialist struggle.

The least understandable and defensible aspect of older “Berniebros’” Sanders enthusiasm has been their depressing unwillingness to challenge their candidate’s chilling embrace of the criminal American Empire Project. Surely the spiritual and budgetary bankruptcy of “war socialism” is one of the key lessons of the New Left experience during the 1960s, when the “war on poverty” was strangled in its cradle by the costs of Washington’s “crucifixion of Southeast Asia” (Chomsky’s term at the time) and when a cadre of U.S. “democratic socialists” (including Michael Harrington, Bayard Rustin, and the truly despicable Max Shachtman) achieved well-deserved radical disgrace by failing to forthrightly oppose the mass-murderous U.S. War on Indochina and failing to make a call for the reduction of “defense” spending part of their “peoples’ agenda” to “end poverty in America.” Their reiteration of this past war-socialist (“social chauvinist” in Lenin’s terminology) error (crime, really) is one of the three top reasons I have to say, paraphrasing Pink Floyd, “Hey, Berniebro, leave them kids alone.”

Beyond Letter Grades

The second reason is their dismal, dogged, and dangerous, de-radicalizing dilution of the meaning of the terms “socialism” and “democratic socialism.” As Yates reminds us:

“How does Sanders define socialism? Rather peculiarly. Eugene Debs, one of Sanders’ heroes, understood socialism to mean social ownership of society’s productive wealth and democratic planning of economic activity. It meant the abolition – through class struggle – of the wage system and a radical divorce from the entire complex web of markets that are capitalism’s face and façade, beneath which lie brutally exploitative relations of production and the debasement of the natural world. Debs’ socialism intended an end to the debilitating division of labor that guarantees most workers a lifetime of alienation and stultifying work. It demanded production for use and not for profit. It supposed, in other words, the abolition of capitalism…. Sanders, to the contrary, sees socialism as social democracy, with capitalism intact, although with a stronger, more aggressive and progressive role for the government.”

“Socialism” with “capitalism intact” – with capitalist wealth still in power – is a deadly Orwellian absurdity.

The third reason is older Sandernistas’ belief that a real socialist revolution – one that would NOT leave “capitalism intact” – is off the historical table. That is a conclusion we simply cannot afford. Capitalism properly understood – as the private, for-profit, and accumulation- and growth-addicted ownership and control of productive wealth and the political economy – is pushing humanity over the edge of an environmental catastrophe from which it will be unable to recover. The profits system is by all indications hard-wired to destroy decent life on Earth in the not so distant future. Can an urgently required transition to a sustainable civilization occur and the climate and related environmental crisis be solved and a livable Earth saved under the competitive, chaotic, hierarchical, regressive, imperial, authoritarian, and growth-and accumulation-addicted capitalist system? Not a chance. Pink populist and social-democratish tides won’t save us. Only great red-green revolutionary waves of radical reconstruction can do the job. Capital is driving humanity and other living things off the cliff.

We are far beyond the incremental letter grades of social democrats and Left Liberals. We are at an existential chasm: we either take the revolutionary leap or its game over. The need for an eco-socialist revolution is humanity’s pass-fail moment. (This isn’t about hysterical and neurotic “catastrophism.” It’s the realistic diagnosis and treatment plan for a gravely endangered species.)

Bernie is Not Our Convener

In a recent interview with Chris Hedges (an early and consistent Left critic of Sanders), Seattle’s Socialist Alternative city council member Kshama Sawant “call[s] on Bernie to convene a conference of activists, organizers, his campaign supporters, to discuss building a new left party for the 99 percent, free of corporate money and independent of the Democrats and the Republicans. We may have to do this. We cannot fold up and go home if Bernie does not do it.”

Would it really be suitable for the Left Liberal and narrow nationalist Empire Man, capitalist, and longstanding de facto Democrat Bernie Sanders to summon such a gathering? Ms. Sawant surely knows that Sanders will convene no such summit – that there’s really no “if he does it” about it. Her call is likely a tactical move meant to move young Sanders supporters over to a third party as Bernie fulfills his promise to back Hillary this late spring and summer. I get that and why it’s a clever move. But why the over-strong emphasis on a “new party,” as if electoral politics and voting are the main things American leftists need to be focused on right now? Does Sawant wish to call for a new Constitutional Convention to alter the nation’s party and elections system so that third and fourth parties might actually have a fighting chance and U.S. electoral politics might actually become worthy of passionate citizen-worker engagement? (It’s interesting to me how rarely U.S. left intellectuals and activists look seriously at the arch-authoritarian obsolescence of the U.S. Constitution. Under the rules of the U.S. political game, constitutional and otherwise, electoralism is a dead end for serious leftists when it comes to higher officers. It isn’t just or only about campaign finance.)

In the meantime, whatever positive contribution Sanders has made to the radical education project is coming to a close in accord with his original sheepdog promise. Let’s thank him and ask him now to go home. He played his role and it was interesting to see that the dosage necessary to sustain U.S. progressive’s dysfunctional addiction to the major party quadrennial extravaganza (“that’s politics”) his primary season had to be increased like no time in historical memory: a candidate who let himself be called a democratic socialist! There’s radical meaning and potential contained in and advanced by that stimulating development. Now let us get actually serious about capitalism, imperialism, inequality, eco-cide, and socialism and begin before it’s too late to act on the urgent, posthumously published wisdom of the martyred Dr. King’s admonition on “the real issue to be faced.” Surely the debasing spectacle of the 2016 presidential selection – shaping up as “a contest between the two most hated people in America – should be an apt teachable moment for serious radicals who advocate a revolutionary politics more concerned with who’s sitting in the streets than who’s sitting in the White House.

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

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