This will almost certainly vastly exceed the length that most readers will find manageable. While I can understand the empirical accuracy of this observation, the fact remains that established, monied, monopoly mediation churns out endless streams of narrative about ‘the news of the day’, albeit often in the form of audio video materials that require less attentive focus. In this context, some extensive responses are essential if any sort of critical understanding of said endless streams is to take place.
The following paragraphs are part of an e-mail thread that a friend of mine helped to initiate, the underlying impetus for which was from Atlantic, a magazine to which I subscribe, an article about how ‘America’s politics has gone insane.’ Anyone who likes can read that report here:
While the piece was vaguely interesting, I found it at best trivial, inasmuch as it ignored or deracinated history, it assumed premises and made presumptions about what constitutes ‘politics’ and ‘sanity,’ and its arguments were often out of context or non sequiturs. The earlier discourse in my friend’s thread had not delved such points, however, focusing on ‘Trumpism’ and how ‘crazy’ its supporters are, how unusual, how unseemly, blah blah blah.
My rejoinder to this is the body of this posting. It follows my usual metrics of insisting on historical context, descriptive breadth and richness, and a nose for the contradictions in play.
Or is it “Hey, you two!?” Whatever the case may be, I’ll make a profferal despite my instinct to remain on the sideline.
The Atlantic, eh? Writing about “insanity” in politics as if it were unusual seems to belie the periodical’s Brahmin origins as a midwife for the Grand Old Party. They’ve endorsed only two presidential candidates since advocating ‘honest Abe’ early in 1860: Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and Hillary Clinton in 2016.
One way of viewing the magazine’s labeling contemporary politics as ‘lunatic’ is to suggest that, for the senior editors and publishers—a group that includes Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple Computer—any unfolding of things in which an Atlantic endorsement does not tip the balance must be, almost by definition, crazy, baby, crazy!
Such a view, on the face of it, implores that the reader consult R.D. Laing’s The Politics of Experience or Thomas Szasz’s The Myth of Mental Illness, both of which make the point that social barbarism, promulgated by insidious hegemonic cultural forces as if by Gaia’s grand plan, makes any sort of ‘calm, measured, sane‘ response to mostrous socioeconomic dynamics itself a dialectical definition of schizoid behavior and ideation. Political madness thereby must accompany our present pass, in which Brand Chaos’ great empire seeks to rule and plunder the planet and, if COVID’s coming makes possible, every single member of the human species along with the Earth itself.
Moreover, as David noted, this bloke’s ‘historical review’ is at best trivially superficial. Each of the two ‘revered founding fathers’ in the 1800 contest for chief executive imprimatur, for instance, Jefferson and Adams, more or less tried to put his opponent in prison for seditious libel in the fray, an actual possibility given the still extant Alien and Sedition Acts. In the event, Aaron Burr nearly became President with the help of ‘Federalist frenzy,’ years prior to gunning down dear nationalist bourgeois Alexander Hamilton, and well fefore his treasonous forays on the ‘Western frontier’ in favor of the British Empire.
The next half century combined predatory mayhem with euphoric expansion, the close juxtaposition of butchery and ‘opportunity.’ Anyone who doubts this would do very well to read, one after the other, Frederick Douglas’ autobiographical masterpiece—’my master was my father’ was almost the introductory sentence—and Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, following which a perusal of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the best selling book of the 19th century, and a careful reading indeed of Abe Lincoln’s Second Inaugural would be the order of the day: insane politics, for certain.
How about the ‘compromise’ of 1876? The Cross of Gold Populist eruption, Gene Debs’ Socialist six percent in 1912, and more than half that total in 1920 while he sat in Atlanta’s Federal Penitentiary for the ‘crime’ of calling Woodrow Wilson’s “He Kept Us Out of War” perfidy an instance of actionable class warfare? What about ‘W’s’ grandfather, Prescott, and the Liberty League’s attempt to recruit Smedley Butler, the two time Medal of Honor recipient and nine year Marine Corps commandant who wrote the chilling memoir, War Is a Racket, to overthrow and if necessary kill Franklin Roosevelt so as to save ‘democracy’ for the propertied rich? Or one of the ReDemoPubliCratiCan phalanx’s first incontrovertible salvos, the joining of the Democratic wing and the Republican to insure the defeat of Socialist Upton Sinclair’s bid to become California’s governor with his best-selling pamphlet, I, Governor and How I Ended Poverty: A True Story of the Future, a battle in which ‘Uppy’ Sinclair still garnered forty percent of the vote despite his own nominal camp’s treachery, an omen of what would befall Bernie eight decades later and guarantee the presidency to a ‘madman?’ What utter horseshit!!
U.S.politics have always delineated something like psychosis. Hell, things have heated up since the ‘Great Depression’s’ ultimate ‘solution’ was Nazism and world war, and the omnipresent threat of thermonuclear mass collective suicide followed apace in its aftermath. This insistence on Brand Chaos at the center of SOP establishment internecine competions has only intensified as ‘neocon’ and ‘neoliberal’ thugs have duked it out only to discover that they were the same animal.
Even the professional gangsters and political bosses who’ve ever predominated in Congress found John Kennedy’s mind blowing executive experience in Dallas to be, with 95% certainty, the result of a conspiracy, one that quite plausibly included ‘W’s’ dadand Prescott’s son, George Herbert Walker Bush, who moved from being the head of America’s SS simulacrum at Langley, in which he’d been active for a quarter century, to being a ‘heartbeat from the Presidency’ under Ronnie, Trump’s spiritual forefather, and then assuming the reins in his own stead immediately before ‘the victory over Communism’ that portended our descent into the deepest hellish pits of Brand Chaos’ complete capture of our ‘exceptional’ nation.
What exactly could one call sane about the First Gulf War, the attack on Yugoslavia, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and generally homicidal international policies wherever anyone denied just how ‘special’ America really was? Examined in this wider cultural and political economic and historical context, Donald Trump is but a blip on the radar screen as plutocracy’s minions try anything, no matter how looney and delusional, to save their riches and their python’s grip on the levers of production and power.
In contextualizing how Atlantic articles demonstrate the fraudulence and Jekyll Hyde nature of the Yankee polis, one can examine headlines from the 1960’s: “New Yorkers Without a Voice” from April, 1966; and “The Quiet Victory of the Cigarrette Lobby,” September, 1965; and “One Woman’s Abortion,” by Mrs. X, from a month before; a “Mad Strangler of Boston” piece from May, 1964; “Why Land on the Moon,” August, 1963; “Report From the Congo,” September, 1963; Vance Packard’s “New Kinds of Television” assessment from a month later, another item from the mid ’60’s “Whatever Happened to Women’s Rights?” In “Churchill at the White House,” Eleanor Roosevelt’s March, 1965 contribution, the former first lady offers appreciative nostalgia for England’s chief militarist.
A decade and a half prior, defending “Mr. Churchill,” Isaiah Berlin takes the measure of Winston as a literary figure and finds him as dandy with a pen as he was with the defense of Anglo-American imperial policies, even if that transatlantic partnership was a fractious and contradictory and complex as the issues surrounding ‘the Jewish Question’ that nearly countenanced a grotesque ‘final solution,’ under Hitler’s Henry Ford inspired leadership, of capital’s fear of Bolshevism and its Torah tainted components, a la Leon Trotsky and others.
Early 1947, a couple years in advance of Berlin’s hagiography, saw two disputing takes on the nascent formation of Israel. As the magazine’s archives indicate, “Writing in the February Atlantic, Professor W.T. Stace of Princeton raised the issue of whether in Palestine we are ‘pursuing the methods of justice or the methods of force.’ His article, ‘The Zionist Illusion,’ provoked instant response, and chief among the more thoughtful replies is this article, simply titled ‘Palestine,’ by Eliahu Ben-Horin, who was born in Russia and immigrated in 1921 to (what became the State of Israel). He lived there for two decades and became Editor of the Hebrew daily Doar Hayom and Editor-in-Chief of the Palestine News Service. Mr. Ben-Horin writes with an intimate knowledge of the Middle East and Palestine, which he last visited in 1946. He is the author of The Middle East: Crossroads of History and a contributor to leading American magazines.”
In a somewhat similar vein of a ‘balanced’ approach to the balance of forces among the hoi polloi, months prior to editorial once-a-century partisan picking of a candidate, i.e., LBJ, the magazine had given John Dos Passo—blessed be his name among the potentates for his eschewing the Marxism and Bolshevism that his divine trilogy of novels arguably advanced—chances to point out his support for Goldwater and essentially retract the narrative arc of especially volume three of his U.S.A. series, The Big Money.
Sixty-six years apart, Atlantic gave the floor to W.E.B. Du Bois, to articulate ‘what the Negro wants,’ and Martin Luther King, Jr., in his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” to beg liberal brethren to get a clue. Richard Hernstein’s defense of his views about ‘I.Q.’s’ dependency on ‘merit’ came a couple years in the aftermath of MLK’s assassination, however, meaning deficient ‘Negroes’ were up Shit’s Creek with no paddles, and multiple paeans to “broken windows policing” then greased the skids for little rich girl Hillary Rodham Clinton to seek to suck up to reactionary bigots by embracing the need to stifle ‘super predators,’ a predecessor of Joe Biden’s upcoming assaults on ‘super spreaders.’
That this hundred sixty-five year old publication has offered readers astonishing content is indisputable. I’ve gone through less than half the archives, and couldn’t resist the allure of this trove of treasures. It included these and many, many more.
I’ve bookmarked more than a dozen others. That doesn’t override the fundamental fact that this monthly gloss of narration and propaganda is one hundred percent establishment in its orientation, with not even a passing nod of potential recognition to the possible validity of Marxism, socialism, and other mixed up attempts by the oppressed to find any way out of the modern mess without having capital at the center of the paradigm.
Thus, perhaps, James Fallows’ longstanding membership in the Council on Foreign Relations. Thus also, at least plausibly, the presence among the Atlantic‘s contributors of C.I.A. founding member Cord Meyer, whose former spouse was JFK’s mistress when he lost his head and sought to dismantle the Agency—or maybe the other way round is more apt. Mary Pinchot Meyer herself, while publicly promising to help show the fraudulence of the Warren Commission, died at a gunman’s hands in a mysterious ‘murder while jogging’ incident during 1964’s Autumnal runup to Johnson’s landslide.
Anyhow, this is merely a few snowflakes from the tip of the iceberg that reading this kind of sophistry, combining fatuous fantasy with whining woe-is-me moans, brings to my mind. I could write volumes. Before I bid a salubrious shalom, though, I’ll offer a few ‘Points of Information,’ in parliamentary parlance.
David mentions as creditable about the American way, “the rule of law and the values of egalitarianism.” As regards the first part of that pair, I’d recommend a careful reading of Chief Justice John Marshall’s iconic plus or minus 1819 decision in In Re Macintosh, in which the estimable jurist openly acknowledges that the foundation of said ‘rule’ is the sword and its steely slashes; concerning the assertion in the latter half, I’d insist on being inquisitive about the life, among tens of millions of others, of Sally Hemmings, the revered Jefferson’s slave mistress and, quite likely, niece of his wife via the parentage of his father-in-law. These two bits of contradictory evidence would be easy enough, with a large enough wager to justify the effort, to amplify ten thousand fold of course.
He also speaks about “fundamental values of the system,” which confused me. I mean, he didn’t mean imperial profiteering plunder in service to plutocracy, did he? If not, what other ‘values’ have had even close to the same je ne sais quoi?
“Trump is a sui generis monster of an animal”. WTAF?? Are we forgetting Jesse Helms? Curtis, ‘nuke-em-till-they-glow,’ Lemay? Richard Milhouse Nixon, for God’s sake, evil genius extradordinaire, not to mention a minimum of half his close comrades in arms? Oliver Fucking North, Heydrich or Himmler or some such in a past life? David ‘Grand Deacon’ Duke? That fully forty percent of the U.S. Senate, as was the case with Hugo Black, had at least friendly relations with the Ku Klux Klan, whether as members or sympathizers? Our society spawned Trump, in like fashion as most of Hitler’s ideas and methods had stamps of approval from this side of the Atlantic, from Henry Ford’s missive on ‘World Jewry’ to the fear tactics of hooded klansmen.
Ken also used some language that causes me to turn to the factual record as a corrective, to wit these pointers.
He spoke of “impatience with corrupt American politicians” as somehow noticeably greater today than heretofore. Oh, my! Twain, Mencken, Bierce, these are just a few of the voices that would make such a view, as such, essentially impossible to maintain. Upton Sinclair’s Brass Check, a journalistic expose and memoir of the author’s research and experience, should be required reading for all political commentators of any stripe.
“No one in the Democratic Party before now ever called himself a Democratic Socialist.” Whoa, dude! Sorry, Ken, but that is just false. For starters, check here: <https://www.dsausa.org/about-us/history/>. I’ve hung out with DSA Democratic politicians, in other words officeholders, more times than I can count.
He says, “calling Trump a proto-Fascist,” may be going too far, “but Rauch is pretty much on target.” That’s a logic thing, to me. Hitler had a numbering system for the S.S., in which the lower numbers meant that the holder was an ‘early adopter’ and hence higher in “the leader’s” pecking order. So if that’s what one means by proto, as in ‘from-the-original-crew,’ then, okay, maybe not; but is Donald Trump, the son of the father about whom Woody Guthrie sang, “Old man Trump,” organically disposed, or at least likely, to find fascist thinking and tactics and policies alluring as a cure for his own and bourgeois society’s copious self-induced ailments?
Well, duh!! For my tastes, if I want an honest, insightful, and reality based profile of ‘the Donald,’ I’m turning to someone like Glenn Greenwald. If you haven’t read or seen his stuff, from before Snowden to The Intercept to his new digs at SubStack, then you’re doing yourself a disservice. Check that shit out.
Ken avers as well that Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies remains a powerful model to follow and set of tools to deploy in assessing how matter’s stand. Granted, Professor P. is wicked smart and has many wrinkles, methodological, conceptual, and empirical, that are useful and interesting, even in some senses fun, to examine and test.
But I detest buried premises. When they find themselves disinterred, so to speak, they smell bad. What actually is this ‘Open Society’ about which we prognosticate, criticize, and fantasize? A relatively thorough reply to this inquiry could be forty or fifty volumes worth. Instead, for now, let’s just say that entire lines of potent media criticism and philosophical critique posit that wicked smart thinkers like Popper, when deconstructed, voila! turn out primarily to manifest ideological and propagandistic pointers of their ‘rulers and masters,’ especially outside of narrow ‘scholarly’ realms of dispute.
Just to instantiate what I’m saying, a social aggregate that relies constantly and centrally on “manufacturing consent,” as Chomsky and Hermann state the case, cannot be ‘an open society’ at the same time; furthermore, a sociopolitical context that embodies a “rich media, poor democracy,” along the lines of what Robert McChesney exhaustively and dispositively demonstrates, is fundamentally incompatible with ‘an open society;’ additionally, the description by Upton Sinclair, in The Brass Check, of Rockefeller control of and prevarication with media cannot conceivably coexist with ‘an open society.’ One could add scores more too, obviously.
In other words, I could go on, Anyhow, my main point personally, about all this, is that too much of what here and now passes as political discourse is careless with or unconcerned about disciplined use of evidence and argument. Harry Frankfurt, a Princeton emeritus philosophy professor, penned On Bullshit as a serious philosophical essay. It begins something like this: ‘The most saliient feature of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.’
In particular, this applies to the never even acknowledged presumption by Herr Rauch that elections and parties circumscribe ‘political classes’ and, for the most part, the realm of political work generally. What bogus ideation, as entitled as it is assiniine.
We recently sold a little piece of art for fifty bucks that has a message that speaks to this point. It came out of the river in the shape of a dining room chair; it bore this note. “We All Simultaneously Want & Woe Chances to Claim Chairs at Society’s Bargaining Table: on One Hand, We Know that Equity Mandates Such Assertions; on the Other, We Feel So Much Safer Assuming Roles of Children, Whom Powerful Parental ‘Leaders’ Will Protect, Though This Notion Amounts to Nonsense That Only Our Own Purposeful Participation Can Dispel.”
I’m an Atlantic subscriber. I both want to have an easy portal to ruling class thinking and like the easy access to an archive full of ideas and writing vastly more impressive than anything of the current context. The September cover blared the headline, “How Did It Come to This?” The article featured up front was by the COVID interlocutor, Ed Yong: “How the Virus Won” was its inside-the-covers title. Notably, ruing Trump’s obvious chances just ahead of this juncture, another of the issue’s essays also appeared on the cover: “The Power of American Denial” was another of dozens of hit pieces against our admittedly gangster chief executive, of course without the merest hit of a useful deconstruction about the publication’s backers and enthusiasts in bringing this situation to pass.
Here’s a prediction. So long as this promulgation of bullshit, twined in the here and now as nonsensical reporting on the dread Corona virus and pretentious blaming in regard to ‘Trumpism,’ Atlantic, no matter its revered roots and storied past, will have neither the impact nor the quality that once it did. Such a potent eventuality, indeed, would require actually engaging with ‘socialism,’ Marxism, and other radical points of view.