I suppose I might as well try to put down where I stand on the imminent US presidential election, as this event ties together in a single hideous package the whole fascinating wormy mess of present-day American politics.
The simple way of summing it up is that the Democrats, in part through their own internal dynamics and prior commitments and in part through their anaphylactic overreaction to Trump’s constant needling, have managed for now the second time in a row to do the near-impossible: to nominate, in Joe Biden, someone arguably more dishonest, unfit and fundamentally compromised than Trump himself. The resulting election just might be, as Matt Taibbi just described it, the “worst choice ever“.
I remember very well the days when the GOP was obviously and unquestionably the chief party of dreadful corporate shills, of unmitigated greed, and—particularly thanks to Bush II’s Iraq War—of the warmongering “military-industrial complex”. I remember the days when everything about the GOP suggested eerie lockstep discipline and ideological conformity. I remember the way that campaign donations seemed to sluice their way in endless abundance from corporate coffers into GOP candidates, while the Democrats, like a ragtag army living off the countryside, seemingly had to make do with the support of grassroots, nonprofits, and organized labor. I remember the policies of environmental devastation that were synonymous with Republicans. I remember the idea that the GOP was filled with intolerant if not barbaric “authoritarian personalities” who would shut down any speech they didn’t agree with and notably had no sense of humor. I remember the GOP as a party of religious fundamentalism, and the Democrats as the party of free thinkers and skeptics.
As of today, much of this has come almost full-circle: all that I once thought about the GOP is now at least as true of the Dems, and often with a quite warped extra twist.
Anyone who looks closely at American history will realize that, even granting that the US has a true two-party system (instead of, say, a “uniparty” with two painted faces), the issues and positions of those two parties have a remarkable way of periodically shifting to almost totally different ideological ground, to the point that something very close to “memory-holing” seems to be necessary in order for the parties to keep their own inner sense of continuity. The Democratic Party’s transformation from guardian of Jim Crow into the semi-obligatory home for minorities and aggrieved identity-groups that it is today is probably the most dramatic of these, followed closely by the 20th-century transformation of Progressives from moralizing Christian prohibitionists to Crowleyite, “do what thou wilt” advocates for every imaginable form of personal and social license.
Now, with the woke revolution and the rise of Big Tech, such a reversal and memory-holing is happening again in an exponentiating way. Now increasingly the Democratic Party has become the party of prating, pseudo–religious certitude—but it manages to juxtapose this certitude with a remarkably unprincipled willingness to exploit racial division, rampant censorship, mob rule, shady unelected government authorities, abject veneration of monopolist corporations, and increasingly, outright thought-control. Though this moral hypocrisy resembles the old GOP’s juxtaposition of Religious Righteousness and corporate greed and the inevitable evangelical sex scandals, there are many new, scarier elements in the new Democratic Party that were mostly lacking from the old GOP—technological, economic, and ideological superpowers that the latter party never enjoyed.
This new Democratic Party seems eager to validate every libertarian fear of a wild overreach of government-administrative power, seeking increasingly severe forms of expert domination in day-to-day life while fusing itself with the most depraved and invasive new aspects of AI and information technology, from panopticon-level surveillance to Chinese-style social-credit scores to pseudoscientific implicit-bias theories and trainings.
Meanwhile, the idea of pacifism, of “stopping the war machine”, of wariness of the “military-industrial complex”—the grist for many an antiwar protest not so long ago—has become simply yet another something to memory-hole. Apparently it was all for votes, this idea of peace!
It is one thing to notice, as Chomsky did decades ago, that if anything Democratic administrations were historically somewhat more hawkish than Republican; what really stuns about the current situation is the way that, in the dash to discredit and unseat Donald Trump by any means, the antiwar left has largely dissolved itself, or allied itself with agents of very “war machine” that it supposedly was sworn to fight, or even in some cases switched effortlessly into ideation of limitless violence and murder.
The moment it appeared that Trump might largely avoid starting or inflaming new wars (or might even broker new diplomatic relations), huge swathes of the “anti war” leftist establishment suddenly and softly vanished from sight, only to reappear on the side of the national intelligence bureaucrats and military planners. Scores of former hippie peaceniks on the “left” now readily rage at our nation’s failure to saber-rattle with Russia and North Korea and Iran, or to continue on with the pointless Afghanistan adventure.
Of course the capture of government by big business is pursued on both sides of the aisle and has been for as long as there’s been a “two-party system”. But one must still appreciate Bernie Sanders’ daring back in 2016 in using the word “oligarchy” to describe the present US system, for this word perfectly names our new national reality. (For this unfortunate tendency of occasionally calling things by their right names, Bernie was twice thrown under the bus by the New Democratic Party; the second time, after Sanders’ obliteration, all the other candidates as if on cue dropped out of the race to support the insider favorite Biden. More eerie lockstep, more bad faith.)
But the Democrats are now ahead of the GOP in this game of wooing (and submitting to) Oligarchic Capital too: they have lined up with the largest and most prestigious concentrations of capital and the most life controlling industries in the country if not the world. In a further surprise twist, Corporate America, with its eager kowtowing to the “woke” creed of terror and racial determinism, has shown itself to have been quite happily compatible with the Left (or what passes for it now).
This new affinity between corporatist and activist, between establishment and (self-claimed) rebel, has resulted in a terrifying concentration of power, in editorial groupthink and vertically and horizontally integrated power at multiple levels of society. “Tech” workers now routinely tip the scales in favor of Democratic initiatives and underwrite “woke” mandates with lockstep precision that would have been the envy of the GOP of 30 years ago. Workers in the big tech companies give to the Democrats by something like 10 to 1. In the academy it’s probably similarly skewed. The supposedly objective, professional journalistic class, tasked with maintaining the “free press” and the “informing of the public”, has now been almost fully subsumed into what Glenn Greenwald has characterized as “the media’s rank-closing attempt, in a deeply unholy union with Silicon Valley and the ‘intelligence community’ “. We need not waste time even wondering about Hollywood or the creators of popular culture.
As long as we are talking about shameless aggregations of corporate and cultural power, let’s not forget big finance, since this shows even more clearly the New Democratic Party’s total abandonment of the supposed basic principles of the supposed-left. Trump offers depressingly little better in this regard, in the sense that he is himself an oligarch and, predictably, hired more “vampire-squid” from Wall Street (though Obama did no different, and Clinton surely would have done the same). Wilbur Ross, Trump’s Commerce Secretary, is another billionaire-oligarch. Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s Treasury pick, is a man who made millions forcing people out of their houses (with Kamala Harris’ help, interestingly) during the Financial Crisis and his face is the special kind that makes you want to punch it on sight.
And yet, for all this, it is still the New Democrats who are outraising Trump on Wall Street. The vampire-squid school must smell even more billions to be had on the “left” than on the “right”.
Given all the above, it is not completely out of order to even wonder whether the fulminant ball of high-minded, high-handed activism that now surrounds the New Democratic party should even properly be called “leftist”. More doctrinaire Marxists, such as the writers at World Socialist Website, consider the new Democratic Party’s obsessive focus on identity-politics as well as “its complete subordination to corporate America and to the demands of the military-intelligence apparatus” to be fundamentally reactionary rather than revolutionary in nature—more “reactivism” than activism. WSWS has even gone so far as to characterize the Biden-Harris ticket as essentially no less far-right than Trump:
“The Democratic Party is a party of Wall Street and the military-intelligence apparatus. The politics of race and gender identity, which it relentlessly promotes, gives expression to the interests of layers of the upper-middle class, which employ this right-wing ideology in their fight for positions of power and privilege in the state, academia and corporate boardrooms.”
Others on the left even have suggested, on the basis of the enormous formations of elite power and capital supporting the New Democratic Party, that the Party and its paramilitary satellites (Antifa and BLM) are fundamentally fascist, not socialist or Marxist:
“It will be difficult for those remaining on the left to understand that the Antifa foot soldiers are agents of capital, and not of labor. This is largely because of the gradual takeover of the left by new-left identity politics which crept slowly, and then rapidly, with May of 1968 and the Situationist moment being a key signifier.”
Another leftist writer, on Counterpunch, while berating Trump, has no illusions about the leftist bona-fides of a hypothetical Biden Administration:
“…it is an absolute guarantee that Joe Biden as President is going to suck ten times worse than the outer bounds of current imagination. The #Resistance heroes of late will return to being the lying, murdering, war mongers and domestic spies they are”
* * *
Trump, for all his tendency to put his foot in it or make enemies perhaps unnecessarily, has turned out to have uncanny instincts when dealing with this venomous new pseudo-left. His claim that Obama officials had been “tapping his wires”, for example, was mocked at the time but turned out to be essentially true: an extension of the massive system of warrantless spying that had already taken root throughout the most powerful institutions of the USA, since the passage PATRIOT Act—a measure both parties supported and had been putting together for some time prior to 9/11. Trump’s claims that the Russiagate scandal was a “hoax” also turned out to be mostly correct; it is now known that the original idea of tarring Trump with Russian collusion accusations was probably engineered by Hillary Clinton’s campaign—yet another instance of the staggering bad faith of the New Democratic Party.
Trump speaks continually of “draining the swamp”—meaning paring back or bringing to heel the vast body of unelected, un-fireable, and hence unaccountable government administrators throughout the myriad federal agencies. Looking back over the past four years, it is possible to see some basis for Trump’s preoccupation. We have watched as entire government agencies vested with enormous powers and little or no accountability—too much job security—continue to expand their powers, at some times pursuing overwhelmingly ill-predicated investigations (including Russiagate), while at other times suppressing or minimizing evidence that threatens key Democratic figures (such as Hunter Biden’s now-infamous laptop, quietly kept in FBI custody as the “Ukrainegate” accusations raged).
We also increasingly see that the oligarchic-administrative pseudo-left, having captured and apparently transformed the Democratic Party, has moved on to canceling and straight-up censorship reminiscent of totalitarian societies (and likely in some ways modeled on or even employing them). Witness the string of old liberals or even leftists who thought they were “with the program”, but turned out not to be extreme enough in their denunciations, or who dared voice an unorthodox thought: Taibbi, Bari Weiss, Andrew Sullivan, and now Glenn Greenwald.
The truth is, totalitarianism is fast coming to be seen as inevitable, if not cool. There is a tremendous hunger among most dominant power-structures to make it seem normal and legitimate, even progressive—up to and including the calibrated devaluation of basic freedoms like speech, association, and assembly. Whether intentionally or not, the advance of Covid lockdown and other “distancing” measures seems to have blended seamlessly with this general drive. At the same time, striking numbers among the younger generation now place values of woke coercion, such as “inclusiveness“, above values of intellectual freedom and free speech. Self-censorship, even over what a decade ago would be considered straightforward fact, is skyrocketing.
It is not clear how to reverse these trends. But for the time being, Trump is a wrench in these works, rather than an enabler. Despite the shrillest denunciations from various acolytes of the New Democratic Party, Trump has generally opposed attempts to shut down speech, to impose arbitrary restrictions on individual choice and behavior. I was for example pleasantly surprised, with the arrival of Covid, by Trump’s refusal to assume massive emergency powers, which might have allowed to rule as a tyrant. Instead, he mostly eschewed such power-grabbing, insisting that the states should develop their own local plans for dealing with the virus, for which the Federal Government would assume a supportive, not dominating role.
The result has been the kind of patchwork, sometimes improvisational approach which gives conniptions to those who dream of massive, unitary power-structures that sacrifice freedom and local diversity on the altar of a dubious efficiency. But per-capita Covid deaths in the US have remained quite similar to European nations that have endorsed far more draconian approaches.
Further evidence of Trump’s surprising aversion to totalitarian measures could be seen in his response to the nationwide riots triggered by the death of George Floyd. While many on the left have tried to paint Trump’s response as downright Hitlerian, in fact it was anything but, with only a handful of federal troops deployed to prevent rioters from destroying such areas as federal courts, critical monuments (all too few, alas) and the national capital itself.
Trump’s straightforward rejection of the poisonous sophistry and groupthink of “critical race theory”, particularly in federal employment training, is frankly a ray of hope against a backdrop of increasingly abject intellectual conformity and error throughout the nation’s academic and professional classes. Drawing its justification from utterly fraudulent interpretations of inter-racial crime rates and their trends over time, critical race theory has become a blank-check for limitless resentment, mental submission, censorship, brutality and hatred of both self and other. Carving all society into designated masses of “victims” and “oppressors”, this pseudo-intellectual virus certainly could be called “reactionary” in that has has summoned forces almost exactly opposite to those it claims to support: “victims” become a new privileged class, capable of no wrong, while those accused by mere geneaology of belonging to the “oppressor” group are subjected to mass psychological hazing and forced to submit to the new dispensation.
The end goal of this “theory” seems to be the creation and perpetuation of a massive new administrative class of completely mendacious and parasitical thought-censors, as seen in the countless “offices of equity” and “diversity” coordinator positions that have sprung up like mushrooms throughout the universities, corporations, and government. Whereas Biden (and his likely unelected master/successor, Sen. Harris) would reinstate these “trainings” and then some, Trump’s position against this, alone, probably makes his reelection preferable.
More recently, consider the censoring and resignation of Glenn Greenwald—the left-leaning journalist who was crucial in breaking the Snowden revelations of NSA warrantless spying in our midst—from the very news agency he founded, for daring to write anything critical about Joe Biden in the lead-up to the election.
There seems to be a kind of omerta now at work in the legacy media, and on social media, which declares: you shall not report bad things about Biden, or about the New Democrats. This is the very definition of a partisan media; the situation is by now every bit as bad as Fox News, the favorite bugbear of progressives, and it possibly much worse at this point.
Finally, as if to put an exclamation point over the miasma of corruption, collusion and censorship that surrounds the New Democratic Party, we have just had a front-row seat to twin horrors: first, the New York Post’s release of damning information about Hunter Biden’s often-sordid overseas exploits while selling the influence of his father while the latter was Vice-President—very probably with the latter’s knowledge and involvement—and second, possibly even more disturbing, the remarkably unified media suppression of the story, which ranged from Twitter and Facebook inexplicably locking the Post’s accounts to mainstream outlets largely refusing to mention the story or falsely claiming it was—wait for it—Russian disinformation. (The Biden campaign, incredibly, still has yet to formally repudiate any of the information reported by the Post, as if it were somehow beneath them to do so.)
This scandal—both geopolitical and journalistic—has not only revealed the transformation of the vast majority of American mainstream journalists into de facto operatives of the New Democratic Party, but has revealed the Bidens as potentially seriously compromised to a hostile totalitarian power, China. Once again, the same pattern shows itself: the New Democrats end up guilty of the very things they most angrily accuse Trump and the GOP of—but more so.
* * *
Putting it all together, and one sees that a monster is being summoned into being—apparently from many corners of society, both elite and workaday, at once. Whether one calls it “reactionary” or “leftist” or “rightist” or “antifascist” is strangely beside the point, as many of these old categories are blurring into irrelevance.
And most surprisingly of anything that has happened in the past four years, it now appears likely that Trump is not identical with this Monster, but in fact the single greatest impediment to its summoning.
Whether or not the New Democratic Party is truly “leftist” or not is in some sense moot, for there is no mistaking that it is in some sense progressive. But the deepest nature of progressivism, we are unfortunately seeing, is that it cannot stop: if it even slows down, it soon ceases to exist. Its whole essence and identity is bound up with continual, indeed compulsive change, which moreover must be praised as the highest good. Trump himself is “old-guard progressive” in many ways, with his embrace of technology and economic expansion; but it is a slower-moving progressivism, one that may still be reasoned with or paused.
We are seeing now what happens when Progress itself, in the sense of the steady and palpable improvement of life, becomes uncoupled from progressivism as an attitude: the need for progress, finding itself frustrated in the material realm, turns more and more fanatically into the ideological. The result is speech control, microaggressions, the management of all parts of life, the “deplatforming” of any ideas or people deemed “offensive”, the “canceling” of people whose work leads to conclusions even the slightest bit at variance with those of the advocates of Progress. Eventually, if unchecked, the Monster will demand complete control over speech and even thought itself.
There is no apparent limit to the extent of this censorious power, this progressive-Socratic need to, as Nietzsche once put it, “correct existence”. This fundamentally revengeful and increasingly demented urge now extends not just to the domination of culture, nor to the management of what stories of potentially vital importance actually get aired, nor even to the criminalization of words. The Monster must grow and control more and more, or it dies. And so it presses its control out to the absolute extremes of both corporeal and intellectual reality: to our own bodies and to the very conception of truth.
Under the recent woke-New Democratic iteration of progressivism, we now see ideas that were described by Orwell as ways of destroying peoples’ minds and thus securing their total and hapless loyalty to the political machine, recast as symbols of virtue: simple statements of mathematical truth like “2+2=4” are now beginning to face critique from woke educators for being confining and (surprise) “racist”, while falsehoods like “2+2=5” are increasingly proposed as equally valid, daring and challenging opportunities to fight oppression and widen one’s cultural horizons. Physical and chemical mutilation of children under the name “transgenderism”, or insistence that male-bodied individuals are “actually” female in every sense that a born genetic female is, are other examples, and likely only the spearhead for a massive expansion of wholesale modification and manipulation of humanity and nature. Even the already-unquestionable concept of “gay marriage” in some sense represents an Orwellian assault on common sense and reason, in that “marriage” owes its whole existence to the societal need to raise and provide stable environments for children, to clarify paternity, and to cement cooperation between the opposite sexes, whereas “gay marriage” essentially serves none of these functions, and may undermine them.
We therefore have a choice: keep Trump in, and the Monster will continue to struggle and perhaps dissipate; or, replace him with Joe Biden, an enfeebled puppet of the pseudo-left progressive impulse, who will undoubtedly fill the Monster with new energy and assurance.
* * *
On the environment, we can be blunt: Trump is not very good. He loves fracking for example, which is as dirty, noisy, disgusting and land-destroying a process as you could hope to imagine. One cannot hold out much hope for a people whose idea of “brilliant innovation” is to turn huge tracts of their landscape into chemically tainted heavy-industrial sites for the sake of a temporary boom in an already rather dirty and decidedly finite energy source. Yet when one looks at the alternatives to fracking, they appear to be mostly illusory, and hardly less destructive of nature. Wind and solar are propped up by huge amounts of subsidies and—as Michael Moore was censored for observing in his recent work “Planet of the Humans”—they are quite horrid for the environment as well, requiring huge inputs of energy, rare metals, and chemicals while disrupting and uglifying equally huge stretches of nature for what is essentially another form of rapacious energy-extractive industry.
Massive, imperiously centralized enterprises like the Democrats’ Green New Deal are in practice likely to have little to do with saving the environment or wilderness—for which the best expedient is simply to leave them alone, a very low-tech anti-managerial strategy—and everything to do with expanding human meddling and control not only of the natural world, but of other humans. In a time of diminishing physical resources such enterprises, much like efforts to achieve “green growth”, will be at best quixotic and at worst disastrous.
Trump’s pooh-poohing of man-made global warming as a major issue is concerning, but understandable given the fundamental weakness of the alternatives in sustaining a society of today’s size and complexity. Global warming, although likely overstated for the sake of accruing power to elite “experts”, is probably happening, and is likely to continue ratcheting up the general stress-level of a world that, as of 2020, is already OD’ing on stress. But this is actually an argument against massive build-out projects like the Green New Deal, and an argument for increased localism in decision-making with simpler, lower-tech solutions. Paradoxically, with his (relative) aversion to centralized administrative power-structures, Trump is likely to place the country in a more robust position for the Long Emergency that faces us than the New Democrats, with their baroque technocratic designs.
The environmental problems of industrial humanity, one must conclude, will not be solved by more human activity, whether capitalist or statist, fossil-fetishistic or faux-green.
* * *
At the end of the day, for all Trump’s unpleasantness and hyperbole, and for all the terrifying things said about him, after years of the most arduous hunt for damning criminal evidence against him, he appears not to have substantively broken any laws or to have sold out his country (in the manner of, say, the Biden family international influence-peddling schemes).
But there is something more about this: in an age where more and more of life is being controlled by completely impersonal corporate forces; where (especially with Covid) the most basic of interactions is becoming fair game to be catalogued, monitored, “distanced”, and ultimately quashed by automated replacements; where more and more of humanity seems enslaved to a “social network” in which one may live entire days face to face with nothing but a computer screen—despite all this, Trump remains unmistakably human. A disagreeable human, sure. But there is still a character, an individuality there, a quite distinctive even eccentric one in fact—something that cares about actual things and people and responds in a more or less human (if sometimes childish) way to the limitless absurdities our era constantly throws at us.
Here Nietzsche may have something to say as well, because he reminds us that the most pleasant and soothing characters are not always the best for life or health: they can just as well be deadly narcotics, indulgences which destroy our willingness to strive and to learn and to face the world. With the help of “social distancing”, the anathemization of all disagreement, and the sacralization of offense, we are undoubtedly already headed in this direction as a civilization. Biden, with his faltering speech, his soporific manner, and platitudes about “coming together” disguising massive administrative power-grabs, clearly fixes to press further in this direction.
Trump stands in the way of all this anonymizing, atomizing, narcotic tendency in some curious, hard-to-define way. He is a jolt of rude realities that demands, at least, attention and a lucid response. Yet for all his admiration of technology and modernity (in the older sense), he is uninterested in declaring war on the past or on history itself: he rejects the pseudo-left’s program of systemic forgetting, embodied in statue destruction all over the country. This together is enough to make him an obstacle to an idea of Progress that has long since become False Progress. Trump repels it, and all its absurd impersonal complexity, and that is why it finds him repulsive: so repulsive, indeed, that it now happily throws away whatever “liberal” or “progressive” or “pacifist” or even truly “leftist” pretenses it once espoused in order to destroy him by any means.
Meanwhile, if Trump stands defiantly in the way of some technocratic impersonal monstrosity, the Biden campaign has been run like a mummy exhibit at the Smithsonian. The candidate is wheeled out at strategic times, like when the season is right or the sun is the right angle. “Lids” are called—no questions or campaigning, not even for the tiny number of tame journalists who travel with the candidate—as often as one-third of the days. Leaving aside his refusal to seriously address the Post’s revelations, never have I witnessed a candidate who during the campaign has done so incredibly little to merit the victory, let alone to show himself equal to the office, as Joe Biden. It is like Hillary Clinton’s run from 2016 only worse—even less charisma, even less dynamism, even less honesty, and above all even more of the attitude that “it’s my turn”.
So to repeat, the impossible has been achieved, the miracle has happened: the Democrats and the liberals and the progressives have managed to make themselves look even more repulsive and more monstrous than Donald Trump—by a comfortable margin. It took years of careful planning and ideological self-purification (or putrefaction?), but the thing has happened, and it means anything is possible now. Perhaps next we will see lead bullets turning to gold in mid-flight and butterscotch ice-cream raining from the sky?
I therefore encourage any who read this to avoid supporting the Democratic Party in tomorrow’s election in any way, shape or form. If the Republicans and Trump still turn your stomach too much, consider choosing a third-party candidate, remembering that anything is possible.
Call me “deplorable” if you like. Given that we live in an era when all sorts of basic words and phrases have already become wildly dissociated from their literal meanings (for example, “all lives matter”), I will all the more easily bear that title with calm and dignity.