The Naked Empire
What stands out to me about the 2016 and 2020 Presidential Elections is not the candidates or anything particular they said or did, nor is it the interminable length of American elections; it is not any of the issues discussed on the campaign trails (if in fact there were issues discussed on the campaign trails); it is not the debates or any of the questions asked or answered at the debates or at the various Town Halls hosted by the various cable networks between the Conventions and Election Day; it is not promises made or promises broken, nor the tweets, the speeches or the campaign slogans; it is not the support for, or lack of support for any of the candidates among voters. What stands out now, and what will stand out in the future, is what stood out at the time, which has been summed up repetitively in my mind during these years by one phrase: the emperor has no clothes.
Life is seldom so simple, its lessons rarely so straightforward as fable. This is America, after all, where a President who can read eloquently from a teleprompter will not be questioned too stridently on the subject of war crimes, but will be excused from culpability by an equally complicit Congress; where winning an election by a 1% margin is declared a “clear mandate”, and where over it all, the constitutionally protected Fourth Estate sews together invisible garments to clothe a crass and naked system, personified in the form of another sleazy politician. Something about the characters involved in the 2016 and then the 2020 Presidential Elections left me wondering if American voters would realize we were confronted with two very naked and unattractive wannabe emperors possessed of odious histories and dubious relationships with the truth. Historical amnesia, though, is our curse, and in the skilled hands of those who pull the levers of power, those whose job it is to manufacture consent, not an accidental one.
The most consistent sentiment I have observed among voters over the last four years is not any of the qualities proffered by Beltway analysis in which we are boiled down to the lowest common denominator by those lever pullers who understand our daily lives as much as they understand Astrophysics, reducing us to a mythical middle class idyll concerned only with our own investments and reactionary NIMBYism; the singular, consistent sentiment I observe among anyone not protected by the rights and privileges of the 1% is a near total lack of faith in government, the press, the wealth owners, and what were once referred to as democratic institutions, which is to say, elections and the body politic. The shamelessness with which those in government, those running for office, the billionaire donors, and the media they own and operate as the voice of the people in avoiding the issues most concerning to citizens is so obvious that a combined viewership of 3.78 million primetime viewers among 3 major networks in a country of 300 million would itself be seen as a rebuke by any sane entity, as would voter turnouts of only half the voting population. They seem to be, as other protected and oblivious privileged classes in other historical epochs, indulging in greater and greater levels of self-delusion which, when disseminated through the broad reaching platforms upon which they rely, appear to them as the unified voice and belief of The People.
The whims and throws of those in power, those referred to in DC speak as the Beltway, while seeming to present a unified message and mission, and feeling themselves moving with the fluidity, cohesion and confidence of a flock of birds, act with or without their tacit understanding as more of a shroud or veil, reflecting little other their own perceptions and desired outcomes. The failure of the interviewers to ask the questions we ourselves ask from our living rooms is not lost on us, nor is the failure of the politicians in question to answer the questions that are asked. The adherence to the script or the message is unwavering, and while unchallenged by those in government or those in the press who interview them, it does not go unnoticed among the masses. The bubble within which the power holders live seems more and more apparent from the outside, as does its effect on our lives and the health of the State. The unwillingness of members of government, the media or their partners in crime on Wall Street to read the room, to set aside the script even in times of extremity, may end up being the catalyzing factor in the fate of this national experiment. If the population at large is telling you that something is wrong and offering solutions, then the failure of those in power to respond in all due haste and to treat the people of the nation as a people possessed of a right to redress of their grievances must be seen as evidence that they are sociopathic oligarchs.
The transformation of the Republican and Democratic Parties from their historical moorings into their modern incarnations has happened in my lifetime. The laser focus of the GOP on any and all social (ie, personal, which is to say, private), issues has only increased with every election cycle while the simultaneous abandoning of workers, women, children, minorities, etc. by the DNC has ensured an environment in which the animosity of the Parties and the candidates to the people they allegedly desire to represent is more and more apparent; were it not for the stranglehold of the two-party system on electoral politics and the sophisticated machinery propping it up, the very unpopularity and distrust of the system as a whole would cause it to come apart, as has happened with most other republics in their journey from absolute monarchies to democracies.
Republicans who spent thirty years attacking Bill Clinton over the numerous rape and sexual-assault allegations against him exercised no moral compunction over the mulitple allegations (including assault against a minor), levied against then candidate Donald J Trump during the 2016 Elections, and while they never miss a chance to point out the shady business dealings of a Democrat, the years of fraud and bankruptcy trailing behind the Trump family raised no red flags. Not a single revelation of his sordid life and slimy ethics hindered his rise in popularity among those members of the Republican Party who had come to identify as the tea party, though they were met with a certain amount of incredulity by those who considered themselves, despite their support of the hard right Bush Administration, moderates. (These same moderates readily embraced eight years of the Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump pushed “birther” conspiracy, in which President Obama was seen as a foreigner, born in Kenya, and operating as a quasi Manchurian Candidate to destabilize the nation). Instead, every tweet, every bigoted comment, every bombastic statement or promise made by candidate Trump was greeted by cheering crowds and increased popularity among rank and file voters in general, and the extremist right in particular - an alliance on which he has since relied to carry his message into every level of the body politic. Alternatively, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2016 rebranding as America’s kindly Grandmother seemed incongruous with her very hawkish, very public political legacy. The woman who famously quipped “we came, we saw, he died'', about the overthrow and killing of Libyan President Muammar Khadaffi, and “can’t we drone this guy”, about imprisoned journalist Julian Assange was now being presented as an Ambassador of human dignity. Among Democrats, many never batted an eyelash as figures like Henry Kissinger stepped forward to offer their endorsement; indeed, by the final leg of the race the number of Republicans endorsing Clinton was seen as a mark of her electability by life-long Democrats, proof of her ability to lead and to build the mythical bipartisan consensus pundits and party leaders love to trumpet, yet among the fifty percent of the population that habitually abstains from voting precisely because of the obvious chicanery of the the two parties, the willing embrace of war criminals by any Presidential contender, and the incomprehensible ramblings of a Park Avenue carnival barker on a publicity campaign were seen as the jaded allegiance to business as usual that they were.
If the Left existed in the United States as it does in similar countries, perhaps the history of American politics would be different. Certainly, if leftists voices existed within mainstream print, television and radio media a Primary Election in which a right-wing Democrat opposing a center-left Social Democrat would’ve been seen in proper light, and the question of what constitutes conservative versus progressive would not at the time have appeared so opaque. (That the 2016 Democratic Primary was rigged, as admitted by the DNC in the subsequent court cases, firings and resignations that trailed in its wake, seemed to shed no light on the subject for party loyalists, though the stories were followed avidly by Republicans who continue to point to them as evidence of DNC malfeasance and anti-democratic machinations, which they are). After Clinton became the nominee for the Democatic Party and Donald Trump became the nominee of the Republican Party, voters across the country were told this election was (as always), a “battle for the soul of the nation'', and that each candidate was the only person qualified to lead us to some sort of messianic victory (think “shining city on a hill”). That neither candidate was trusted by the American people seemed irrelevant; in the absence of critical reasoning, all mainstream analysis appeared to be generated exclusively for the consumption of those who did the analyzing, the only people, it seemed, who believed the picture they painted. The shady business histories and questionable ethics of each candidate were only mentioned in attacks against each other, by each other or by each other’s proxies, media allies and supporters. Nowhere outside of people’s private conversations or those they were having on social media did the obvious gain any traction. Among Democrats, the traditional policy of silencing leftist and grassroots voices while adhering to a Code of Conduct not dissimilar from that of the Military or the Police in which only absolute allegiance is accepted was, as usual, the rule among Party, media and loyalists; any and all efforts to push the Clinton Campaign to adopt left leaning populist policies, favored among Democratic voters by ⅔+ majorities and receiving majority support among Republican voters, were ignored in favor of the Clintonian Third Way approach: “one big tent”, boot-straps, “Main Street doesn’t want a hand out”, national security, personal responsibility, standing up to Russia and Korea and China and Iran, and for this particular campaign the oft repeated slogan, “America is already Great”. That Americans were beguiled with Trump who was promising to “make America great again” through some magical deals, and that millions who had not recovered from the crash of 2008 were open to anyone promising to do something for them was as seemingly lost on the Clinton Campaign as it was on the media and the DNC, all of whom remained indignant at the lack of enthusiasm for this historic campaign. It was in refusing to shuck the Third Way neoliberalism that defines not only the Clintons but the contemporary Democratic Party, and then lecturing voters on what constituted their best interests and labelling dissenters as misogynists and racists that Clinton, the DNC and liberal media effectively handed Trump the election.
The steamrolling juggernaut of the chaotic and blatantly fascist Trump campaign seemed to be obvious in its ineptitude and focused subservience to one man’s narcissistic whims, and not in achieving any sort of tangible material changes in the living conditions of the people the candidate was allegedly promising to represent. As the nomination was clinched and the so far “never Trump'' crowd about-faced in admirable boot-licking fashion, and MSNBC berated liberal voters for being too privileged to get behind HRC, the course of another typical American election was set. (Within hours of the media declaring Clinton the winner of the primaries, Rachel Maddow, marketed by her parent network as “arguably the smartest person on cable”, was demanding to know when everyone was finally going to “get on board”, and support Clinton as the nominee? This demand for voters to “get on board”, and coalesce around the anointed one is nothing new in American electoral politics). The immediate allegiance of right-wing media to Trump following his primary win, and the previously pledged and always apparent support Clinton received from the time of announcing her run onwards were nothing more than the time honored role played by the media in politics. Trump’s win on November 8th, 2016 was predictable for anyone who has followed electoral politics in this country for any length of time, or who knows that two untrustworthy candidates fighting for “the soul of the nation”, rarely inspires more than fifty percent of the voting population to show up; it is this narrowed electorate, in which elections hinge on a single percentage point, that the last forty years of politics has worked to achieve. It is precisely because the two-party system has worked so assiduously to engender an unengaged, distrustful citizenry that it was always within reason that Clinton would win the popular vote, as she did, and lose the electoral, as she did. There was little on the outside that seemed remarkable about the 2016 General Election except that for the first time in my voting life the general revulsion with the political process, disdain for politicians, media and the corporations behind them, and dread about our future seemed of more importance and interest to the people with whom I spoke than did the two year circus allegedly culminating in the salvation of our national soul.
Obviously millions were inspired to vote for Clinton because she was, finally, the first woman to achieve the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States. That being the case, the banner of identity politics was unfurled, and the symbol became the statement, the goal, and the singular unifying mission. Millions had refused to see in Barack Obama the war criminal and right-wing political operative he was until he was out of office precisely because of their emotional investment in his historic election and victory, an emotional investment that is relied upon by both parties and their spokesmen in the media. As was the case with Obama in 2008, historic campaign became the rallying cry for all those who were With Her. The continuation of Bush II’s domestic and foreign policy under the leadership of our first Black President (aided by Secretary of State Clinton), over the preceding eight years notwithstanding, the desire among Democrats to prove their progressiveness by rallying behind another historic symbol was too alluring to pass up, and the political history of this particular historic candidate, like that of her predecessor, was a fact to be avoided. This was, we were told, our chance to let a woman lead, and that alone would herald a new age of enlightened benevolence. That the woman in question had, as Secretary of State, exacerbated US destabilization of the Middle-East - pushing at least one country into famine and turning another, Libya, into what is now described as an “open air slave market”, was not worth considering when compared to the fact that she was, after all, a woman.
The dedication to identity politics in this country is not a new phenomenon, and while Identity Politics is often ascribed to Democrats and liberals by Republicans, it in fact defines both the Republican and Democratic Parties, and appears to be the most effective method for propagandizing supporters, and guaranteeing the manufacture of consent and bodies showing up on election day, even if it is only the faithful 50%. Campaigns run for the highest office largely on identity politics, whether it be as the first woman running for one of the two party tickets, or that of an “outsider” in the political system; in offering little other than the identity of the candidate, they claim to represent the identity of the targeted voter, and this shared identity becomes the bond between candidate and citizen (and the promise of business as usual). In the case of Hillary Rodham Clinton, the rhetoric put forward by candidate, campaign and allied media was that in electing a woman, this woman, the woman who had written “It Takes A Village'' and who had attended Yale Law School and worked on Nixon’s Impeachment (no mention of her having been fired for ethics violations); the woman who had been First Lady of Arkansas and then of the United States of America; the woman who had fought for children and women throughout her career; the woman who had testified for twelve gruelling hours in Congressional Hearings on Benghazi, and who was telling us “America is already great and we don’t call women pigs”, would be to challenge, once and for all, toxic masculinity, imperialism and bigotry writ large. That the woman in question had herself first as a United States Senator and then as Secretary of State supported, condoned, and escalated war went unmentioned by her campaign and supporters, who were ready to excuse her lack of support for LGBT equality, single payer health care, student debt relief and her approval of then President Barack Obama’s mass deportation program (which included the breaking up and separation of families and the caging of children in concentration camps - all of which has become more important to Democrats since the Inauguration of Donald J Trump). That the woman in question had joined her husband in attacking the women who accused him of rape, sexual harrassment and sexual assault did not seem to damage the perception that electing a woman president would be to strike a blow against rape culture.
This dismissal of reality as “privileged concerns” by the Clinton Campaign, the DNC and Democratic loyalists proved integral to the outcome of the 2016 General Election. The hubris exhibited by the Trump and Cinton campaigns was relentless, and ultimately each campaign was defined by its profligacy in what was to be the most expensive electoral race so far in US history. Neither candidate was viewed favorably by the public, and neither had, despite the money spent by the campaigns and the amount of free air time given by cable networks, convinced more than 50% of the voting population that this election, more than any other (despite the rhetoric), was worth their consideration. In an election cycle in which the Clinton Dynasty was facing Donald Trump, archetype of crass proto-fascist buffoonery (one is reminded of Mussolini), the opportunity for the Democratic candidate to run on broadly popular New Deal style policy was encouraged, yet consistently ignored in favor of the Third Way approach and dedication to the historical imperative of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s run for office. The economic implications of the times, the struggling masses, the rise in right-wing extremism over the last thirty years, the demand for action on climate change, student debt, immigration, police brutality and stagnating opportunity were merely highlights to hit in speeches on the way to the culminating thesis: this was an election in which by voting for Hillary Rodham Clinton we would take a decisive stand on whether or not we felt it was acceptable to call women “pigs”. The country was being extolled to vote for one nominee based on her womanhood and for the other based on his alleged business acumen. As in the previous two Presidential races, the Democratic candidate was being touted on their identity and adherence to “moderate” values (while claiming a simultaneous mantle of progressivism), while the Republican candidate was being praised as an independent thinker and a “rogue”. In each case, the campaigns relied on Identity Politics over policy. In 2008 Barack Obama had given Democrats a chance to vote against four-hundred years of institutionalized racism and to prove their own enlightened (ie, not racist), attitudes, while Hillary Rodham Clinton gave them in 2016 the chance to stand against misogyny and sexism, thereby proving themselves not misogynist. That the politicians in question were self-described Republicans opposed to popular policies like single payer and student debt relief (both of which would benefit women in general and minority women in particular), is seemingly only noticed by what Democratic leadership and pundits refer to as the “radical left”. When Obama was running in 2008, it didn’t seem to upset Identity Politics driven Democrats that their candidate was proud to oppose LGBT equality (let alone his promise to escalate the war in Afghanistan), or that he and his running mate, Delaware Senator Joe Biden, kept repeating their proud opposition while demanding the LGBT vote, for, as they liked to remind us, who else could LGBT people vote for - McCain/Palin? To withhold your vote from Barack Obama in 2008 was considered by Democrats an admission of racism (even if you were voting for Cynthia McKinney, a Black woman and former Georgia Representative running as nominee of the Green Party), while in 2016 to withhold your vote from Hillary Clinton was an admission of misogyny (even if you were voting for Dr. Jill Stein, a Jewish woman and nominee of the Green Party). As the General Election neared, what was reinforced by campaign, surrogates and media alike was that to prove we stood against the toxic behavior of men like Donald Trump, we had to vote for Hillary Clinton, and that all other considerations and, god forbid, reservations, were evidence of a bias against women, one’s own unchecked privilege, or being the dupe of Russian propaganda. As Election Day dawned and the beleaguered voters of the United States showed up or didn’t show up to cast their ballots, what was known before midnight in California was that Donald J Trump, and the Identity Politics of the uncouth “outsider” had prevailed.
Four years later, “the emperor has no clothes” still seems the apt observation it was at the time, and the general ignorance of that point is as apparent among the privileged, and noticed by the struggling today as it was on Election Day 2016. It was disheartening, though not unexpected, that in the face of losing the Presidential Election the response among Democrats would be to pillory the left and to engage in an anti-Russia crusade in which critics of the Democratic Party, and anyone who had voted for Dr. Jill Stein was to be cast unironically as “agents of the Kremlin”, and directly responsible for the victory of Donald J Trump. At the same time that Democrats were rehabilitating the Red Scare tactics of the McCarthy Era, Republicans were convincing themselves that a man whose career had been built on deceit, moral and financial bankruptcy, and a personal aesthetic verging on the grotesque was going to “drain the swamp” of lobbyists and Wall Street operatives whose own fascination and worship of personal net worth was only rivaled by Trump’s.
In 2008 Republicans had circled wagons around the self-branded “rogue” McCain/Palin ticket, which was promising to drive the Straight Talk Express all the way to the White House. What was implicit in the 2008 Republican Campaign became explicit in the 2016 Republican Campaign: large numbers of white Americans felt dispossessed of their due rights and privileges, and the social advances among women and minorities of the last 60 years were in some way more responsible for stagnant wages, crumbling infrastructure and disappearing retirements than the alliance between Wall Street and Washington. While John McCain had been accepted as a reasonable politician (one of the reasons, it was claimed by both conservative and liberal media, he had won the Republican nomination), in the wake of Barack Obama’s election as President, the party quickly became defined by its newest insurgent demographic: the tea party. It was the disaffected identity of the tea party who saw its polar opposite in our first Black President that would come to dominate Republican Party politics, messaging and agenda for the next eight years, and would, in the wake of a crowded Republcian Primary field in 2016, result in the nomination of the candidate who most affirmed the bombastic rhetoric (and had contributed mightily to it), despite the misgivings and efforts of Party Leadership. The beast, as it were, sought out, seduced, seemingly domesticated, had been unchained. That Donald J Trump would be the man to command the beast in 2016 was, while unpredictable, not inevitable - and considering his measured courtship of a run for president in the preceding years, he was something of a known quantity among Repubican Party insiders, and could have inspired more of a cohesive response than the milquetoast performance of the eighteen other candidates who failed to address voters sufficiently to keep power in the hands of someone who understood the rules, and could be counted on to play by them.
The precedent set by the Republican and conservative media between the elections of Ronald Reagan and George W Bush was already so divorced from reality that the eventual nomination of a Donald Trump was not only a reasonable outcome of Republican Party politics, but eventual. Political prognostication is not some esoteric pursuit and requires no special training or knowledge other than the observation of what is happening, and the obvious progression from Ronald Reagan to the Donald was written in front of us in real time just as transparently as the transition from a New Deal society to an oligarchic surveillance state. The neoliberal economics, bald faced lying and general ham-handed incompetence of the Reagan administration followed by Bush I, two terms of Clinton’s scandal plagued presidency, and 16 years of war on terror under Bush II and Obama set the stage for another President willing to subvert democracy and the common good in the name of identity, power or some half-baked ideology. The identification by Republicans (a majority white political party), with being not only disaffected but oppressed people, victims of political correctness and a war on heteronormative Christian (ie, white) values, has moved the Republican Party increasingly to the far-right, and has pushed the Democratic Party to right along with it; this squirrely relationship with reality and semantics, affirmed and reinforced by the media and elites, ensures the meanings of “left” and “right”, “conservative” and “liberal”, “progressive” and “radical”, no longer have meaning except the subjective. Put another way, words now only have meaning as assigned to them by those in power.
That the press, once heralded as the bedrock of democracy, is not only complicit in the lies told and confusion sewn, but sees itself as a stand-in for the public as a whole, yet unaccountable to it, is one of the most defining elements of the naked empire - and perhaps the most culpable in terms of assigning guilt (a subjective argument, but one frequently made). While MSNBC brings on guests to deride and malign the left as a threat to decent society, and FOX stokes the long burning fires of reactionary fervor in which anyone left of Mussolini is guilty or radicalism, trust in not only the government but the press at large continues to erode, and faith in democratic institutions atrophies. As of 2020 nearly a third of Americans polled now view Fascism as a viable political ideology, and Democrats are embracing any Republican willing to levy even the slightest criticism against the Donald.
The glee with which the media, liberal and conservative, loudly repeated and reinforced every lie told by the George W Bush administration to sell the illegal and eternal War on Terror has not been forgotten by everyone, certainly not in the light of the Obama administration which was openly at war with journalists (and persecuted more whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined); now that we have watched the hysterics of the one-term Trump presidency, in which the media maintained a non-stop tirade against Russia on one side and the “radical left” on the other, trust that truth, any truth is being told by the media or the government is rare as as a star in afternoon. That liberals spent four years castigating Vermont Senator Bernard Sanders as a narcissist (and in the words of frequent MSNBC contributor Zerlina Maxwell, made people’s “skin crawl”), while casting everyone who criticized any of the other eighteen candidates for the Democratic nomination as ravenous Trump supporters, unhinged radicals, racist “Bernie Bros”, or Kremlin stooges was not lost on voters. (It is worth noting that Republicans pay seemingly more attention to the internal politics of the DNC and liberal reportage than vice versa, and that any and all instances of hypocrisy by liberals in the government or media is remembered and used in campaign commercials, speeches, emails, newsletters and fundraising solicitations to good effect. The ability of the RNC to present the DNC and liberal media as election rigging crooks has not only emboldened Republican voters to act as self-appointed election observers (armed to the teeth, making them more vigilantes than civic minded citizens), it has bolstered the narrative on the right that the Democratic Party is a corrupt institution willing to destroy democratic institutions in service to itself). The willingness of what constitutes liberal media in the United States to repeat the same scurrilous Red Scare propaganda used on FOX and Breitbart about center-left candidates and policies, which seems only to serve right-wing purposes, is one of the driving factors in contemporary political obfuscation. If right-wing candidates like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden can be presented by liberal media as pragmatic progressives and center-left candidates like Bernie Sanders can be presented as raging Marxists posing a threat to middle class (read: white), America, and conservative media is painting them all as radical Communists waiting to butcher Christians in the streets, then it would seem that the media is indeed another arm of the political parties vying for control of State Legislatures, Congress and the White House, and not the constitutionally protected free press so necessary to safeguarding democratic societies that it claims to be. While those inside the halls of power, whether media figures, lobbyists, CEOS or politicians, are insulated from the realities of American life - and thereby any concern over what we on the outside see, think or feel - those on the outside, that is to say almost everyone else, seems to be increasingly convinced that this country is headed not only for ruin, but destruction - and it is being driven off the cliff as a matter of pride by those privileged and ignorant elite who like to tell us who and what we are, what we think and what is possible.
It is this large-scale reckoning (that the emperor has no clothes), happening across the United States that is more responsible for rapidly declining trust in the media than the “fake news” accusations lobbed by the current megalomaniac in the White House, which seem to embolden only his own supporters, who, at this point, can no longer be considered Republicans in the traditional sense, but a growing political body bound by common right-wing beliefs, among which an adherence to conspiracy theories, anti-intellectualism, anti-multi-culturalism, and persistent anti-Communist hysterics seem to dominate. For the last twenty years at least, Americans have watched radio, television and print media merge into tightly controlled monopolies. Witnessing the selling of the War on Terror by liberal and conservative media alike, and watching those same networks expand and come to dominate nightly news coverage in such a short time was as novel to our collective experience as the rise of first, the internet, then the cell phone, then the smartphone. It does not pass notice among the plebs that news anchors employed by cable networks are paid millions of dollars a year not to report the news, but to disseminate propaganda in the most repetitive fashion twenty-four hours a day. The eight years of dedicated birtherism on FOX et al. while MSNBC worshipped at the Obama altar, followed by four years of single-minded anti-Russia coverage at MSNBC while FOX pushed every lie and conspiracy put forward by Trump, coupled with the complicity of our most respected newspapers in the selling of every war and foreign intervention during our lifetimes is coming home to roost. The distrust of the media by the public at large is not to be confused with the violent hatred of the media as espoused by MAGA and Donald Trump - that demon is a separate beast, though nurtured in the same environment where covering for power and corruption is the only observable role of a willingly complicit press.
The open hatred espoused not only by the hosts of the most popular cable shows, but their guests and the columnists of our major papers, for any policy that would engender not only international peace, but domestic prosperity is so reinforced in the Beltway bubble that nothing will shake them out of this fugue besides revolution or the collapse of the society. For now, the media is as protected by its privileged status, both as individuals working within media and as media organizations, as any member of the government or elite. When societies close and crumble under the weight of a decadent and uncaring oligarchy, the outcome shields no one from the reign of terror, least of all those who lit the path to that unholy place. Whether or not we will descend into totalitarianism is uncertain - what is certain is that the press, government and corporations in the United States enjoy a level of fabulous privilege devoid of responsibility not known since the halcyon days of Louis and Marie’s Court at Versailles, and that while they may not look out the windows too often to ascertain what we are up to, we are quite aware what they are doing.
In the four years since Donald J Trump and his children assumed office in January 2016, no one in either political party, no cable network, no thinker or figure has been able to counter the effects of a society that is rapidly losing faith in itself as individuals bound by common nationality and purpose, and in its institutions - the “free press”, Legislatures, Congress, Courts and Executive Branch enumerated in the Constitution. The conundrum of corrupt politicians and media representing the democratic process has over the course of the 2020 Primaries and General Election, brought things closer to a head. The Democratic Primaries were, again, obviously being decided in the same back-room-deals as the 2016 Primaries; by the time all candidates but Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden had dropped out (many at the urging of former President and Kingmaker Barack Obama, making the calls from his multi-million dollar Martha’s Vineyard compound), the fix was in, and anyone who had hoped to elect a center-left progressive were left looking at the grotesquerie of two septuagenarian rapists suffering from obvious cognitive decline as contenders for our highest office. Two men whose careers have been built on lies, both accused of rape and sexual assault, both unable to get through more than a sentence at a time coherently, protected by a mass media dedicated to propagandizing, vying to lead a country would, if it were happening elsewhere, be considered evidence of a failed state. That neither of those men are held accountable by the government in which they serve or by the press which allegedly serves the people, says all we need to know about the health of democracy in the United States of America, and those who remain incredulous at the steadily rising distrust of all of these institutions would serve themselves by examining these very issues and considering that the behavior of those in power, those whose signatures mean life and death over a population, have a far greater responsibility to the public than the public does to them. The oft repeated line by Kennedy, “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”, is sadly overused, and always by those who are, like anyone in the insulated Beltway, out of touch with the great divides that exist between life on Main Street and life on Wall Street.
Had the DNC not excused the 2016 Primary rigging, and had it not spent four years attacking its left-leaning members as agents of Putin - had it instead dedicated itself to transparency, perhaps at least some of the damage done by the collusion of Democratic Party insiders and media would have been undone or in some way reconciled. The DNC, as one of the two major Parties in a two party system, expects immunity for crimes it commits in broad daylight, while demanding accountability of every member of the GOP; the GOP, expecting the same immunity as the DNC, plays the exact same game so that we have a government pointing fingers and singing “I’m rubber you’re glue”, and “I know what you are but what am I”, with less confidence than children fighting in a school yard. What these inept sycophants and power seekers don’t realize is that when parliamentary processes are run by squabbling, greedy, spoiled children the outcome for that society is rarely enviable - even for those who enjoy the greatest of the society’s privileges.
As it is, the 2020 General Election, whose popular and electoral votes were won by Joe Biden, is still dragging on. Since before Election Day, Donald Trump and the majority of his supporters have been claiming that anything other than a landslide reelection for Trump would be irrefutable evidence of fraud. Indeed, since before Donald Trump was even sworn in for his first (and so far, only term), as President, he was taking to twitter and the podium with these claims which were immediately picked up and spread across social media and associated right-wing megaphones, becoming by Election Day 2020, truth ipso facto of having been repeated at all levels of party membership, and at all levels of right-wing media for four years. Trump himself made it known before the General Election of 2020 even began that he planned to be in Court at midnight Election Day - a promise he kept. So far every lawsuit filed by the Trump Campaign or by his allies in the GOP has been thrown out for lack of evidence, though the propaganda machine continues to rally the troops with ever increasing fervor. Right-wing media is, of course, apoplectic at the prospect of a Biden presidency, which is, true to outdated form, presented as the Second Coming of Stalin. Over the six weeks since Election Day, the right has called for the invalidation of millions of votes, threatened to kidnap and murder Democratic State Legislators and Electors, staged violent protests in multiple cities, (including the nation’s capitol, which left four hospitalized in critical condition due to stab wounds), stormed the Capitol, resulting in four deaths, and called for both martial law and a military coup to invalidate the election and install Trump as our (possibly eternal), President. Following an election in which two right-wing racists with dementia and histories of sexualy assaulting women ran for President of the United States and were protected at every level by colleagues, supporters and media, the societal divides and the gaps between have and have not seem even more insurmountable, and despair unavoidable. It is not hyperbole or melodrama to point out that many, if not all, totalitarian regimes operate with support of vigilantes before commandeering the existent agencies of state violence, and that over the last four years the numbers of self-identified members of Trump’s MAGA movement, who whether organized as independent citizens or agents of the Proud Boys, the 3%, Patriot Prayer, or as acolytes of Alex Jones or Qanon, are marching in public armed with automatic weapons, clubs, spiked-shields and bear spray, declaring a willingness to be just such foot-soldiers of the visionary future. Do not doubt that is what the movement of discontented (mostly white), mobs gravitating to MAGA see - a vision of the future - and like similar previous movements, their vision is a reality they will gladly share with us, given the chance.
There is hardly any facet of the corrupt state of American affairs that is not readily apparent and consistently remarked upon by those members of the population subject to the ups and downs of the economy, those members of society most commonly referred to as consumers and, when the messaging calls for it, voters, that does not bolster the growing consensus that the emperor has no clothes. This is a time in which misinformation abounds, manipulation is policy, the intended confusion grows and the desired consequence, distrust, blooms like a cancerous lesion. If one considers distrust of, and animosity towards the State as a key facet of totalitarianism as set forth by Hannah Arendt in “On the Origins of Totalitarianism”, and one considers as well the use of propaganda, vigilantism, common enemies and a despot with an agenda as necessary components for authoritarianism, then we are indeed living in the crucible. The willingness of the media to parrot the message of the two party system, which is known to be managed by the same corporate interests that own and manage the media, and to live within a profit seeking vacuum of non-accountability will, if not checked in a meaningful way, contribute to further fragmentation within a society that is, historically speaking, ripe for fascism. The reticence of Republicans in office or their allies in the media to oppose the accusations of fraud as put forth by Trump and his supporters in the militias, and the willingness of many in right-wing media to amplify them while empowering the MAGA movement and speaking only to it, are not only preventing the resolution and “healing” we are so fond of in this country, they are dedicating their political future to a moral battle articulated by charlatans, profiteers and vigilantes of the most odious sort. We live in a society where a President who has openly championed the most violent reactionary elements of the society now refuses to concede an election he clearly lost, instead issuing endless charges of fraud in an attempt to rally his base. In a society where no meaningful opposition exists, and the radicalism of conspiracy theory not only thrives but is granted the blessing of legitimacy by being repeated and discussed all across available media, and where the Police will operate hand-in-glove with fascist vigilantes, neo-nazis and right-wing extremists, the safeguards of the Republic no longer stand, and the dangers of slipping into dictatorship are real.
We may very well find ourselves in the not so distant future living the confused reality of a now closed society and wondering how we, the “freest people on earth”, came to be thus imprisoned. This confusion will not be exclusive to the persecuted, the labor leaders, racial and sexual minorities, the disabled, immigrants, Communists or the apolitical - those citizens in a once free society who supported Trump and gave the party the authority to move to the extremist right over the last three decades, and who ignored the perpetuation of fascist and racist dog-whistles, who cheered on the propagandists while attacking journalists, and who signed petitions demanding the invalidation of the 2020 Election, ignoring entirely the inhumanity of it all in service of zealotry, will count themselves among the confused and, what will prove even more surprising them, the truly oppressed. As the Nuremberg Trials exemplified, and what those uniting under MAGA (and the opposition party and mainstream media), seem to forget or simply not to know, is that giving up one’s power and joining the mob does not absent one of responsibility and, as the breadth of 20th century totalitarian history shows, does not preclude one from being one day denied the protections of the regime and finding oneself under the heel that was once so keenly placed on another’s neck.