The more things change the more they stay the same
The coming U.S. electoral struggle is going to be down and dirty. The right is entrenched, inflexible, outnumbered but more than willing to compensate with gerrymandering, voter suppression, Russian assistance, e-voting fraud and outright cheating. And, as Chomsky points out, the largest interference with our elections comes from U.S. corporations and wealthy elites.
There will be no converting what Chomsky calls the most dangerous political party in our history, but it would be a mistake to allow them to set debate terms. It is the general voter who must be reached.
The right wants the discussion to pit capitalism against socialism because of the advantage the former generally holds, given years of indoctrination in media, schools, churches and most institutional life in the U.S. They will try always to get their opponent defending socialism and link that to communism and the worst abuses of that system, ignoring or denying, of course, the worst aspects of capitalism.
It might be helpful to consider that there is Big capitalism and little capitalism. To lump them together as the villain is to alienate some potential allies. The real issue is more clearly found on different terrain. The poles are not capitalism versus socialism but greed and domination versus decency and democracy. This gets us more immediately to the issues, by-passing a couple very loaded words and some default loyalties.
I.F. Stone’s collection of essays, The Haunted Fifties, 1953-1963, a Nonconformist History of Our Time demonstrates that the anti-democracy tRump phenomenon, though certainly on steroids, is not new. Wisconsin Senator McCarthy was smearing reputations and careers and constricting debate to a narrow right-wing, jingoist range where few officials were safe from charges of disloyalty or “un-Americanism”… or courageous enough to speak out. McCarthy was embroiled in financial impropriety which, if revealed, could have stopped his rampaging much earlier but political cowardice won out. Eventually he, like Nixon, stepped on the wrong toes or out-lived his usefulness but while he conducted hearings the inquisition was live.
One victim was Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein’s parents who were reduced to managing a laundry mat to make a living. But they were far from being alone. On the other end of the fame-spectrum Charlie Chaplain was forced, or elected, to leave the country. Many Hollywood artists and writers were harassed and blackballed, some with the connivance of the president of the Screen Actor’s Guild, Ronald Reagan. Most of the victims were exercising their constitutional rights by joining a party or engaging in political activity that resisted the ruthless domination of the ruling class. This technique of labeling those who demanded justice and real freedom as subversive was (and is) frequently found useful by those who orchestrate and profit from injustice.
In critiquing the then new Eisenhower administration, Stone points out the appointment to key cabinet positions of defense contractors, oil industrialists and corporate lobbyists. One of the appointees, dismissing conflict of interest questions around his General Motors investments, commented that “…what is good for General Motors is good for America.”
The more things change the more they stay the same. I think it’s called BAU, business as usual. Joseph Heller in his magnificent novel, Catch 22, used that phrase to good effect to unmask insidious corporate nightriders.
Just as today we have anti-science climate change deniers, the political climate in the 50s allowed the U.S. to dismiss proposals to do away with nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union, claiming that the Soviets then would have a numerical conventional advantage. Even when the Soviets agreed to limit conventional arms the U.S. rejected, apparently ranking profits for the military industrial complex to survival of our civilization. Going against science and going against popular will, BAU.
Another more recent book, Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, The Surreal Heart of the New Russia by Peter Pomerantsev. Confirms that Russia is completely corrupt, run by and for gangster/oligarchs and that as these characters attempt to park their wealth in safe places, particularly London, they bring their corruption. The author holds double citizenship in England/Russia so focuses on that relationship but, given other books on the subject, it is clear that the U.S. is hardly free of this spreading contagion.
Image Credits: the illustration was created by the author, © Tom Ferguson; the feature image of Utopia bricks (made by the Aldridge Brick and Tile Company. Utopias were particularly popular in the construction of air raid shelters, due to their extreme hardness) was provided by Oxyman via Wikimedia.org (CC); the book jackets are promotional (fair use).