Whether you get it from the television or online, most public discourse is obviously manipulated and geared toward setting us all at each other’s throats. Politics seems to require character attacks the way capitalism requires currency. A flame war over current events means that manipulated public discourse has done its job.
In the midst of such noisy ugliness, it’s easier to focus on current lies and distortions than to look at what’s being obscured by them. Even the media’s staunchest critics fall into this trap: responding to the media, they are, inevitably, steered toward certain topics and away from others. Allowing one’s attention to be directed in this way is one of the subtlest and most effective kinds of censorship. Discussion of multitudes of topics is suppressed, not by erasing them from knowledge or withholding information, but simply by sidelining them.
The most significant political fact of the last forty-five years has been obscured in just this way. It’s a simple and obvious fact. Evidence of it has not been suppressed. Yet few people other than climate activists seem to have integrated this fact into their thinking. And climate activists meet with utter denial from one side of the political spectrum while the other “side” treats them—and their policy recommendations—like specimens suspended in formaldehyde: deliberately sequestered from the rest of the environment. The liberals fetishize “science” to the point, it sometimes seems, of actually worshiping it, yet they do not apply what science tells them to their understanding of the world and their position in it. They act like you can “know” a scientific fact in isolation, when in fact science is meant to provide new information precisely so that it can be integrated into current thinking, and, if necessary, change that thinking down to its roots. While liberals sing the praises of science, they continue to support politicians who could not be more supportive of the fossil fuel industry if they showed up to work dressed as a derrick. As someone once said in a different context, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?”
So what is this fact that has been obscured?
Another way of saying that?
Neoconservatism and its other face, corporate capitalism, have brought conservatism and capitalism to the brink of destruction. Unfortunately, since conservatism and capitalism have dominated our society without inhibition for the past forty years, that means they have also brought society and all of us living in it to our destruction as well. Embracing the ideas and assumptions popularized by Reagan, Thatcher, and their allies have led directly to the nightmare in which we currently live.
This nightmare can be approached from any number of angles: the de-industrialization of our society and financialization of our economy; the declining spending power of the bottom 90% of our economic system; new buildings being built while old buildings stand empty and people live on the streets; our three-tiered legal “justice” system, which has succeeded at making us the prison capitol of the world and, arguably, one of the countries bravely keeping slavery alive into the new millenium; the degradation of our roads, buildings, bridges, levees, water and electric systems; the pollution of our air and water and ruination of our soil; the seemingly insatiable appetite for war; the normalization of torture, prison terms without limit, and censorship—there seem to be endless lenses through which to view the damage which has been done. I could draw specific links between the policies of Reagan, Clinton, and the Bushes, and the terrible results in which we live. But it's simpler just to point out the conditions of our lives--and then point out who's been in control of American politics for the past forty years.
When is the last time that anyone calling themselves “left” held power in this country? For that matter, when is the last time that anybody calling themselves “liberal” or “progressive” did? Unless you give credence to Hillary Clinton calling herself “a pragmatic progressive,” we’re left with Bernie and the Squad, which sounds like a bad fifties band, but is more like a bad joke--because even if you believe that Bernie and the Squad are sincere, it’s obvious they aren’t powerful. They spend most of their time making excuses for Democratic leadership, and trying to persuade us nobodies to accept those excuses. Nobody with power does that. Powerful people hire or intimidate subordinates into doing that.
Further, when is the last time that Congress passed a law that moved the nation to the left? In my estimation, it's the early nineties, before Newt Gingrich took over the House of Representatives. Between 1991 and 1993, Congress passed the Family Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. And aside from some energy efficiency standards for cars, that's basically the last time Congress took left-wing ideas and turned them into laws. (Marriage equality was not brought about by Congress, but by the courts.)
The right wing has been in power for the past forty-five years. And the entire political spectrum in this country behaves as if that is not so. You can ask a right-winger of any flavor—libertarian, neoconservative, old conservative—and they will all assure you that they have not been in power. “The Left” has been in power. “Socialists” have been in power. Everyone from Bill and Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are “socialists.” So, apparently, are Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. They are “the Left.” Why? Well, they call themselves Democrats. And they make speeches about identity politics and bigotry--when they’re not making bigoted speeches themselves. That makes them “left.” Do they want to raise wages? Improve working conditions? Provide the public with healthcare? Solve the housing crisis? Destroy the current prison system and build a new one? Transform the police force? Increase the power of ordinary people? Decrease the power of the ultra-wealthy? Foster and support local small business? Do they even want to require the rich to pay a fair share of taxes?
Not so much.
That’s why our society has been saturated with right-wing ideas; the pendulum swing we’re supposed to have when the opposing party takes back power never happens. Not under Clinton; not under Obama. Democrats promote right-wing policies while sometimes making faintly left-sounding speeches. The Clintons were so right-wing that Republicans of the time complained that they were stealing Republican ideas. And then there’s the twenty years that Republicans controlled the White House: years that they apparently want to mythologize or forget. The Reagan/Bush years have been transformed into a lost Golden Age which, like all lost Golden Ages, has no significant relationship to anything that came after. The George W. Bush years have been swept under a carpet—and how! The only people talking about W these days are Democrats telling us what a nice, misunderstood guy he is. It’s almost as if they’re trying to help the Republicans escape an embarrassing moment.
But it’s understandable that the right wing believes they haven’t been in power. First of all, they have to believe that. Their myth is that they are all aggrieved patriots, rising up against tyrants for the sake of liberty. It's hard to hold power and still believe that about yourself. But secondly, and more importantly:
I know that “forced to admit” sounds silly in our current system, where no one powerful ever has to admit anything, but it’s not people or political parties or media that keep dragging the truth about conservatism into view. It’s events. It’s the conditions of our lives. Most of all, it is the fact that the biosphere is soon to collapse under us, threatening our species and most other species in the world with extinction—if the rich don’t impose a nuclear war upon us first. We're on the brink of global destruction. No matter what your ideology is, destroying the world is unforgivable.
It takes a multi-billion-dollar propaganda machine running 24/7 to prevent people—a lot of people—from considering that this intolerable present arose from the past. And the 1980s through the 2010s is not a past of left-wing ideas or socialism. It is a profoundly right-wing past which has led us to an insane present. It takes a mighty effort of historical revision to erase the fact that, from 1984 till 2008, even the right wing itself believed it had won its political battles, that America was "center-right" and thus belonged to the right; that future right-wing victories were not only desirable, but inevitable.
Despite Barack Obama giving the Democratic party the opportunity to redefine “left” as sometimes wants to promote minorities for its own profit, too many people remember that “left” used to mean looking out for the little guy to make a better society. It used to mean spending money on programs that would help people who don’t have much, rather than handing money directly, by the billions, to people who already have too much. In order to suppress this memory, the right wing calls the Democratic party and its id/pol supporters “the Left,” “leftists,” and “socialists” even while the Democratic party suppresses the Sanders movement, the only left remaining in American politics, in front of God and everybody. Biden said, in a rare moment of verity, "I'm not the socialist. I beat the socialist." Conflating Democrats and leftists allows the right to pretend the left has been in power for much of the past forty years. It allows them to blame the left for the wreckage that we’re living in, and pretend that their ideas have not been debunked in the most devastating way possible: by history itself.
The right, most of them, are fathoms deep in this pretense, in total denial of how we arrived at this point, blaming instead political forces that haven’t had power in this country for forty to seventy years. And that’s why, despite the complete failure of their ideology, I’ve never heard a right-winger say that they wanted to abandon the right-wing label. Most right-wingers are still quite confident that they are right.
If I’m going to join hands with the right wing, some of that will have to change.
I’ll talk about that next week.
How are you all today?