It’s Not Over

(This whole subchapter was basically written in the Bush years and revised only a little after 2008. How well has it stood up?)

The Democrats capturing the Presidency in 2008 didn’t mean that it was over, and it was foolish to expect that it would. What, then, was the “it” that wasn’t over? Eight years of domestic surveillance, foreign conquest, and cultivation of theocratic networks created new constituencies with a personal stake in buccaneering abroad and the Garrison State at home. For every fiscal Republican who repented of the second round of voodoo economics and national near-bankruptcy, there was a crony capitalist who – like the early Oskar Schindler – knew that personal enrichment flows from proximity to imperial viceroys. For every blue-collar Republican who realized that he voted for lower wages, longer hours and his son coming home in a bag just so that the super-rich – what George W. Bush once called his “base” – could party harder, there was a lean and hungry young man who understood the career opportunities offered by indefinite expansion of the security services – by 2010 up to 1,271 government organisations and 1,931 private companies. And for every mainstream evangelical repelled by the antics of gung-ho mercenaries and gleeful torturers, there was a fundamentalist delighted at the chance to enact his eschatological dreams and give the Tribulation a helping hand.

Neocon intellectuals might go down in disgrace, but the new class of security contractors and surveillance operatives did not simply go away, with an exchange of President or anything else; most of the Bolshevik secret police, for example, consisted of the Tsarist secret police. Any genuine return to multilateral diplomacy, good governance and civil liberties would have put the Children of Cheney out of a job, and can therefore not occur. A journalist once referred to Blackwater as “Bush’s praetorian guard”; I do so wonder if he was aware of the historical resonance of that expression.

Certainly, were I a big wheel in the American “deep state”, what I would have done in 2008 was to extend a protective hand over the mercenary companies, so that they would reward me and mine with loyalty unto death; if not their own deaths, then at least those of my more annoying critics. Most historical oligarchs maintained private armed retinues, so it was high time that the American power elite got with the program. On the model of the German veterans of the Great War, sooner or later they are going to call them the “Freedom Corps”.

Some people claim that what happened in the US election of 2000 was a coup d’etat. They are insufficiently radical; there had been a slow-motion coup d’etat in progress for thirty years. Before the Florida election – where the disenfranchisement of thousands of African-American voters was of greater importance than hanging or pregnant chads – came the Clinton impeachment. For this there have been various non-exclusive explanations, such as the insurance companies’ interest in stopping Hillary’s health reform, the revenge of the tobacco companies, the revenge of the rich for the attempt to collect their taxes, or the cracker loathing of the first president to have lots of black friends. All three, however, deal with particular reasons for Clinton-phobia and not with the real issue, which was an attempt to replace the separation of powers with the parliamentary principle, so that the President sat only at the pleasure of Congress. (At least when it is a Democratic President and a Republican Congress; the other way round, and it will be Cheney’s absolute monarchy again.) In radical Republican eyes, Bush senior was entitled to a second term and would have had it but for Ross Perot’s intervention. Bill Clinton was therefore illegitimate, a usurper of the throne.

One of the preconditions of the coup d’etat was clearly met, therefore, namely that at least one side had become a seriously bad loser; that is to say, a player defeated in the democratic process develops the doctrine that there exists a source of legitimacy higher than that of actual elections. To the Bolsheviks, for example, the Constituent Assembly could not be allowed to delay the progressive march of the working class; the Nationalists launched armed rebellion against their own government in the name of something called “Eternal Spain”; and the Nazis considered that the time had come for decadent liberalism to yield to “Christian-German” family values. The coup-maker always sees himself as embodying a higher something-or-other: such as History, or the common people, or national security, or freedom. That the modern Right is no longer prepared to abide by the democratic principle of “you win some, you lose some” is an inevitable consequence of the Republican Party’s conversion from business-friendly conservatism to radical religiosity; for how can we possibly expect God to accept an electoral defeat by Evil?

There was once a time when every American “born into the world alive” was, as in the Gilbert and Sullivan song, “either a little Liberal or else a little Conservative”. Joe McCarthy long ago made it impossible for any true American to be a communist, and then, by a process of rhetorical alchemy that deserves to be studied far more extensively, in the space of eight short years his former snitch and rightful heir succeeded in making it political suicide for any true American to call himself a liberal. Third round: no true American can vote Democrat? No true American can believe in the scientific method? Or no Real American™ can read books?

The Economist once remarked that “[In Hollywood] liberal views are not just tolerated but expected”. This may be read as implying that, outside Hollywood, liberal views are not expected but yet nevertheless tolerated; it may also be read as suggesting that, outside Hollywood, liberal views are not even tolerated. Given that liberal views were once the American mainstream, some sort of linear transformation is here in progress; and there is no reason to expect that, when intolerance of liberal views becomes the standard, it will content itself with any form as mild as non-violent disapproval.

It is normal for both sides of a political divide to use the name of the other as a term of abuse; what is not quite normal is for the perceived depravity of one side to become a sort of natural law or divine truth. Such a situation can only arise when the nation’s self-image has been indissolubly wedded to one particular political position, so that anyone else automatically becomes anti-national or a traitor. This is not easy to achieve, but Reagan managed it, through turning his former screen persona, the cowboy, into a kind of sole authorized national archetype, suppressing all the others. The primary archetype of the American used to be Uncle Sam, a New England puritan, that descendant of the English Dissenter tradition of probity, frugality and liberty; the man who wanted to free the slaves. His place has now been usurped by the cowboy – an ambiguous figure, half knight-errant and half hired enforcer of the feudal lord whom we call the rancher.

The next time the American people have the temerity to attempt to elect a progressive as president, they will discover that the groundwork has been laid for the next stage of the rolling coup. It will be made in the name of national security and some version of “the Real America”.

Posted on November 22, 2011 at 14:17 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!, The Shadow In The West

7 Responses

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  1. Written by urban
    on November 22, 2011 at 19:53

    “some version of ‘the Real America’”

    Code for “White”, I confidently predict. We may not know who the oligarchs of the deep state are, but they are definitely white, and thus one generation away from being in the minority. It gets harder and harder to maintain the figleaf of democracy when a minority stays in power long after it has lost any real relevance.

    Even a cursory glance at the track record of the totalitarian mind over the last couple centuries suggests that those private armies will find ample reason to enslave and kill lots of brown folk.

  2. Written by dwasifar
    on November 23, 2011 at 16:32

    It does hold up well.

    I’m still not completely convinced on the “deep state” thing though. Certainly big business owns government, or at least pulls a lot of strings – witness that Tea Party protesters don’t get pepper-sprayed in the face or clubbed over the head like Occupy Wall Street – but I’m not sold on the whole star-chamber thing you guys are postulating. If that were fully true, how do we explain Clinton’s relative success in just those areas where we currently fault Obama? If the president is fully under the control of a secret elite, why did the Bush corporate tax breaks have to wait eight years for Clinton to leave office? That’s just one example. Another might be, why did Obamacare make it into law at all, even in its reduced form?

    I don’t deny that there’s way too much corporate influence in government, but to me what we have looks more like a majority of legislators purchased individually than a central control locus. It’s too chaotic and herky-jerky to make me think it’s a central plan.

  3. Written by urban
    on November 23, 2011 at 18:41

    And Clinton also checked off one big item on the Right’s long standing wish-list when he slashed welfare. Just as only a Southerner could arm-wrestle Civil Rights legislation through a wary Congress in the 60s, only America’s first Black President could gut welfare without being accused of racism. Perfect man for the job at hand.

    Clinton also inherited a big budget deficit and left a large surplus, so much the better to fund the next wars of imperial expansion. I can’t imagine Clinton’s overlords would have been upset about that.

  4. Written by dwasifar
    on November 23, 2011 at 19:56

    Clinton was America’s first black president? Must have been the first albino, too. 🙂

    I’m not buying the deficit/surplus argument. We spent eight years bashing Bush for creating a deficit, supposedly to the benefit of his corporate overlords. Now we say Clinton’s surplus was also to benefit his corporate overlords. If either a deficit or a surplus benefits the overlords, there’s no reason to think they would care about controlling it. In any case, explaining both opposing outcomes as evidence for the overlord hypothesis suggests an unfalsifiable belief – kind of like when christians rationalize that god makes good things because he is good, and allows bad things because he is good.

  5. Written by Hugo Grinebiter
    on November 24, 2011 at 10:18

    @Dwasifar: I have heard that title for Clinton before, it’s not a jeu d’esprit of Urban alone. You know it isn’t meant literally.

    Agree with your second point. Urban’s thesis is unfalsifiable and therefore meaningless, the religionists have shown that we really do need that Popper criterion.

    Perhaps we should proceed as follows: if there were such things as overlords, what events would make them laugh and what events would make them cry? We should start the count in 1979. Who’ll go first?

    On your first objection, well, almost all politics is a conflict between factions of an elite, the rest being theatre. Great reformers are usually from the same elite as those they are opposing. For this reason I am not happy with the notion of a monolithic deep state either, it smells too much of ZOG and Zekret Masters.

    On the other hand, I think there is plenty of scope for cui bono arguments about the GWOT and the Meltdown, which I suspect are intimately connected. What we really need is names — of who has permanently and tangibly benefited from the Meltdown. And who in what was previously thought to be the elite has not.

    A final observation. The expression “the deep state” is originally Turkish, and in that country its existence can hardly be doubted. But an analysis of Stay-Behind/Gladio in all the continental European countries is instructive. Everyone else has one, so why not the hegemon too?

    We in Norway had one of these networks too, bound up with the ruling Labour Party. The leader of the wartime Resistance (the non-communist one) remained a sort of eminence grise until his death a few years ago, intimidating researchers. Of whom I was one, and warned away from a particular buried body that interested me.

    BTW, the deep state in Iran is called the ousulgara, or “men of principle”. For that is always how they see themselves, just like the Honoured Society and the yakuza.

  6. Written by urban
    on November 25, 2011 at 15:34

    “If either a deficit or a surplus benefits the overlords, there’s no reason to think they would care about controlling it.”

    There’s more to it than: budget deficits are are good for the oligarchs, or, budget deficits are bad for the oligarchs.

    It depends on where the savings came from and where the the money freed up by those savings is being allocated. Clinton worked off the debt which had been run up to the benefit of the oligarchs, largely by cutting programs that benefited the poor and the middle class. Essentially a wealth redistribution upward.

    Had Clinton not cleared up all that lebensraum in the budget, the very expensive programs of the Bush years which primarily benefited the oligarchs and their proxies in the security state, would have required a cost/benefit analysis. They never got one because we felt rich. We felt rich because Clinton had balanced the budget on the backs of the middle and lower classes. Up we trickle!

  7. Written by dwasifar
    on November 27, 2011 at 05:43

    I’m sorry, I’m still not seeing it. Since when has the US waited to wage war until there was a budget surplus to pay for it with?

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