Monday, November 20, 2017

Corporate Cannon Fodder


I’ve put in many years as a corporate drone, one of those cogs in the machinery of commerce sitting at a computer in the grids of cubicles filling up skyscrapers. Our job is to take care of the mindless work that must be done to keep the gears of profit turning. But we also have another important, thankless task.

Corporate drones are paid to serve as cannon fodder for the executives. We’re the first line of defense against the consequences of their actions. We must answer for the company policies that we had no hand in shaping. We’re the ones who must listen to the complaints, vitriol and abuse from the clients and customers. We’re the ones who must repress our anger and sadness. We're the ones who must bow and scrape and grovel to keep the customer satisfied.

We’re the buffer between Management and Reality. We insulate them from negative feedback, so they can continue to pursue the policies that enrich them and immiserate the rest of us. As long as they don’t have to deal with the consequences, they will keep squeezing as much blood, sweat and tears out of us as they can to maximize profits.

So, even as we suffer humiliation, exhaustion and soul-death, we perpetuate the system that tortures us. We are the engine of our own misery. We enable the Fat Cats to escape responsibility for their actions. We absorb the blowback that should be blowing them back.

We keep shrinking our souls to fit into the corporate cubicle. It’s the most elastic variable in the profit equation. Capitalism can only squeeze so much out of the earth via technology. But there’s always room in the soul. The human will to survive is Capitalism’s greatest resource. It can be mined almost indefinitely. But they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel. The vein is nearly exhausted.

Capitalism must strike a delicate balance between exploitation of the soul and enrichment of it. If you give us nothing to live for, we will lose the will to survive, and then we won’t respond to the whip anymore. We’ll simply give up and lie down to die. But if you enrich our souls too much, we won’t need your dead-end jobs. We’ll strike out on our own and take our chances in the Great Big World. The trick is to keep our souls floating between these poles, in a kind of spiritual limbo.

You need to convince us we deserve the abuse, that we don’t deserve to be free, that we must toil in the profit mines. Convince us that we can’t hack it out there in the Great Unknown, that we need the security of a 9-to-5. But still hold out hope for a better future, for a pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow. That’s why the stock market must be propped up at all costs. If our 401(k)’s and savings were wiped out, CorpWorld would have nothing left to offer us.

Instead of waiting for this economic reckoning (which seems inevitable), we should abandon the cubicle before our souls are completely obliterated. We must reject the terms of our surrender and refuse to waste our lives in service to the servants of Moloch. We cannot be the lambs sacrificed for a god we don’t even believe in. We must reclaim the anger and sadness we’ve repressed and use them to fight back.

We might like to stay above the fray, but there’s no avoiding this war. We thought if we left the Fat Cats alone we could keep our comfortable lives. But that time has passed. Now they’re coming for everything we have, even our souls. We have to choose. Either we fight for them or we fight for ourselves. Fighting for them offers security, but what good is security without a soul?

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Popping the Beltway Bubble


I’ve been listening to The Fifth Column podcast lately. It’s good, but they have a libertarian bent, I guess, which seems to make them oblivious to some of the finer points of neoliberal economics. On this week’s episode, they were nattering on about how Blue-Collar Joe's are stupid for thinking that NAFTA has had an adverse effect on the American economy.

One of ‘em even said that people will have forgotten about NAFTA in 20 years. Dude, NAFTA was 23 years ago! Why do you think it’s still on people’s minds? Granted, “the mob” (as The Fifth Column hosts called the unwashed masses) may not always understand the effects of public policies, but I think the mob nailed it on this one. To their credit, The Fifth Columnists said they might not get it because they’re a bunch of “cosmopolitan coasties and journalos.” Ding, ding!

They also discussed a Politico article about Trump voters who still like the President even though he hasn’t delivered on his promises. The thrust of the article seems to be “These people are crazy! How can they still like a politician who hasn’t kept his promises? WTF?!” The implication is that the Trump dead-enders are beyond reason and, therefore, beyond help. The Mainstream Media (MSM*) did their best to expose Trump as a dog-whistlin’, no-class-havin’, female-assaultin’ con man, but they just can’t get through to these nutjobs.

This seems a rather self-serving piece of reportage by the MSM. It reinforces the idea that people in Flyover Country are corn-pone rubes who deserve the shallow, pandering news coverage the MSM give us. The problem couldn’t possibly be that the MSM ignore the real causes of our suffering, e.g., the corporate capture of government. That would imply that many of the Common Folk understand politics better than the big, important, serious people on the News, and that would not be good for ratings or for the MSM’s corporate paymasters.

It’s not like Trump’s support is strong. His approval ratings are breaking records for pathetic-ness. Since polling began, no President has been this unpopular this early in his Presidency. The MSM have been able to revel in those poll numbers for months, but they’re still not happy. They have to find out why anyone would still support Trump.

The big revelation in the article is that these people don’t care that Trump hasn’t kept his promises. They just like him personally. This is supposed to shock us and fill us with despair, but it shouldn’t. They act as though Trump were the first President who failed to keep his promises and still retained popular support. I mean, whoever heard of a politician not keeping their promises? And surely no one would be stupid enough to still support a politician who was so disingenuous.

Are the MSM really so brainwashed, or do they not have long-term memory? Trump may have had the most vacuous, cynical campaign in American history, but Obama’s was #2 in that hit parade. “Hope” and “Change” turned out to mean 8 more years of basically the same shit we got from Dubya, just with better marketing. But Obama remained popular despite his failure to deliver any real hope or change.

This is the political arena that the MSM have been building for decades. They’re the ones who turned politics into a circus, just another entertainment where everything is for show, where words have no connection to actions, and actions have no consequences. The only reason the MSM are shocked by it is because they’ve been drinking their own Kool-Aid.

The 2016 presidential election was likely a tipping point. A critical mass of the American public no longer believes the MSM, and their power is slipping away. I think this is the true (if unconscious) source of their fear and desperation. They no longer recognize their own country, and they can’t predict or control the natives anymore.

It’s time for these folks to get out of the Beltway Bubble. As one of the interviewees in the Politico article says, “I think we’re going to see the end of the world in our generation.” I doubt the world will end that soon, but this generation will almost certainly see the end of the elite’s world of comfort and privilege.

*If repeatedly referring to the “MSM” makes me sound like a tinfoil-hat-wearing crackpot, so be it. I just happen to think they’re full of shit, and this is the most efficient way I know of for referring to them.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Everybody Hates

Before we encounter another situation like Charlottesville (which was exactly 3 months ago as of this weekend), I’d like to address something my fellow Leftists and Liberals seem to be overlooking. I followed the events of that day on TV and social media. Like most people, I was horrified by what happened, wondering if our country was about to be engulfed in a Second Civil War.

I registered my anger on Twitter. But I saw something else arise from the Left that day and not for the first time. Many of my compatriots’ tweets and Facebook posts were seething with a visceral hatred. They really seemed to hate the white supremacists they were watching on TV.

Now I would regard this as a healthy reaction. We saw people beating up other people apparently just because of their politics. That’s reprehensible. It’s only natural to get angry at the neo-Nazi’s and other Right-wingers who were engaging in violence, especially when the police didn’t seem to be doing anything about it.

The problem is that most people on the Left refuse to admit that they hate anyone. They insist that hatred is something felt only by racists, sexists and other deplorables. That’s an interesting position to take. I think the key is in how you define “hate.” (I’m going to take the hack approach now and cite a dictionary definition. Do not be alarmed. I am a trained professional.)

The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology defines hate as a "deep, enduring, intense emotion expressing animosity, anger, and hostility towards a person, group, or object.” (And, yes, I found that on Wikipedia.) I would add that the hostility is not based in logic. To me, hatred is irrational. It ultimately has nothing to do with whether or not the object of your hatred poses a threat to you.

I’d like you to keep that definition in mind if you choose to read “Hate is the New Sex,” a typically brilliant essay by the greatest living nonfiction writer I’ve ever come across, John Michael Greer, a.k.a. “the Archdruid.” (Don’t be embarrassed if you’ve never heard of him; he’s not particularly famous. But, seriously, check it out, because the man is a fucking GENIUS.)

His point is that hate is a natural human emotion that everyone feels sometimes, and, by denying its legitimacy, we’re doing what the Victorians did with sex: filling people with so much shame about it that it’s being repressed and twisted into dangerous behavior. We’re pathologizing it. I think Greer puts it best in this passage:

“That’s what happens whenever people decide that an ordinary human emotion is unacceptable and insist that good people don’t experience it. A culture of pretense, hypocrisy, and evasion springs up to allow them to vent the unacceptable emotion on some set of acceptable targets without admitting that they were (sic) doing so.”

Just as the Victorians ascribed sexual desire to the lower classes, we ascribe hate to the white working class, the rednecks or, as they’ve also been known, “white trash.” They are the socially, intellectually and morally inferior people who are susceptible to the temptation of hate. This has the added benefit of providing a moral justification for our classist contempt of them.

So who are the acceptable targets for our hate? Why, the haters, of course, those very rednecks we accuse of being filled with hate themselves. They are so richly deserving of our hate though, being bent on the destruction of whole races. They must be destroyed before they destroy others, right?

This is a disturbing argument that has recently come to prominence. The following comic strip appeared in a Democratic Socialists of America email right after the Charlottesville clashes. (I’m on their email list.) It claims that intolerant groups cannot be tolerated, because doing so will lead to those groups taking over.


The result of this belief is so obviously horrible that it’s no wonder it came from a philosopher. When you destroy the monster, you become the monster. Destroying one’s enemy doesn’t lead to peace and tranquility. It leads to more violence, more repression and a search for more enemies.

It’s worth remembering that we didn’t destroy all the Nazi’s in Germany after the war. We executed the leaders and left the rest of them pretty much alone (not counting a heaping helping of propaganda and military occupation). In fact, West Germany was the third-largest recipient of funds in the Marshall Plan. What finished off Nazism was the Allies’ mercy, not our might.

But, in our current worldview, hate is an absolute evil that must be amputated from the human soul. This Western habit of identifying “evil” aspects of our nature (hate, sex, left-handedness) and trying to rid ourselves of them has a terrible track record. As the Archdruid points out, the Victorian fear of sex led to the Sexual Revolution of the 60’s and 70’s. Our current psychological climate could spawn a “Revolution of Hate,” an idea that conjures images of the Holocaust and all the worst atrocities of the 20th Century.

We need to remember that we all have the potential to become monsters, but not because we all feel hate. Any impulse can be destructive when taken to extremes, even the extreme of repressing one’s instinct to hate. Rather than denying our urges and trying to destroy those urges in others, we should learn to control them. Then we needn’t fear the monster in the mirror, and we can stop projecting that monster onto others.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Orange Stain

I got an email this week, imploring me to “Tell Congress: Don’t let Trump spy on us.” I’ve gotten other similar emails since the 45th President took office, encouraging me to strip Trump of his ability to unilaterally order a nuclear strike or oppose his pro-Big Business policies. These are all good ideas, but they were good before Trump became President.

The real question is: Should any President be able to spy on us, unilaterally order a nuclear strike or pass laws by decree (a.k.a. "executive orders")? The answer should be a resounding “no,” no matter who’s in office. I’m glad opposition to Trump has brought these issues to the fore, but we shouldn’t need such a bad President to make these powers seem like a bad idea.

This is why the Establishment is so pissed off at Trump. He’s thrown a big wrench in the imperial machinery. The Empire used to be run by dignified adults who supposedly knew what they were doing. But Trump is so crude and obviously incompetent they can no longer carry on the charade. Worst of all, he has infected the Elite’s favorite policies with his stink.

Instead of associating neoliberal economics and neoconservative foreign policy with “serious” people like Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan or Barack Obama, we’re associating them with Mr. Cheezy Poof. If you support the U.S. bombing campaign in Syria, then you’re also supporting Trump. If you support the Free Market handling healthcare, you’re supporting Trump. If you support tax cuts for the rich and corporations, you’re supporting Trump (although that should’ve been obvious already).

The thin veil of legitimacy has been ripped off, and the status quo stands naked before us, in all its crass, venal, orange-haired ugliness. Trump represents the grotesque greed and paranoid power-hunger at the heart of the Establishment, with all the polish and sophistication removed. The Elite are being forced to defend their policies on merit alone, and they can’t.

They need to get a smooth, slick puppet back in the White House, someone like Obama, but further to the Right. The problem with Hillary is we wouldn’t have followed her off a cliff, and, ultimately, that’s the kind of loyalty the President must inspire, because that’s where the Elite wants to take us.

Many people thought Trump would immediately drive us off that cliff, but that only would’ve happened had we followed the Elite conception of democracy. This holds that the public’s political activity should be limited to voting for Establishment-approved candidates. The rest of the time we’re supposed to just sit back and let them do their jobs.

Instead, people filled the streets after the election and have fought the GOP’s agenda tooth-and-nail. As a result, Obamacare has been preserved, the Muslim immigration ban has been limited and the Wall has not even been funded, much less built. The Republicans may control both houses of Congress and the White House, but they still have to answer to the People (as long as the People are willing to get off their asses).

Trump is a constant reminder that we can’t just let politicians do what they want. On a daily basis, he proves how clueless and corrupt our leaders are. This is precisely what the Establishment was afraid of. They wanted to keep us passive, sitting on our hands while politicians and moneyed interests run the country.

In an ideal democracy, we’d all be involved in government decisions. But that’s hard and time-consuming. It also seems impossible, considering the dilapidated condition of American democracy. Out of fatigue and frustration with our neglected, corrupt model, many have given up on effecting change through politics.

Their hopelessness, however, comes at the wrong time. Lots of people looked on the 2016 election as a cause for despair, but really it should be seen as a reason for hope. It showed how the forces that have controlled American politics for decades (Big Business, the Mainstream Media and the leadership of the major parties) are quickly losing power.

Trump won the Presidency despite the opposition of the entire GOP establishment and the MSM (with the predictable exception of Fox News). Bernie nearly won the Democratic nomination facing the same level of resistance from the DNC and a near-total MSM blackout. The signs should be obvious: The Elite are teetering on the brink of irrelevance.

Now is the time to act. We can no longer blame the Establishment for keeping us from changing things. Its shackles are melting. We must throw them off before another ruling class arises to replace them.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Uncle Sam, Lady Liberty and the Holy Ghost

In my last essay, I detailed how our political discourse focuses on style to distract us from the troubling substance of the policies underneath. This is mainly done for the benefit of the Elite, so they can continue pumping wealth from the imperial periphery, the external and internal proletariats, to the core, i.e., themselves. But there’s also a psychological benefit for the rest of us.

Politicians protect us from the truth. We want them to lie to us. Most of the time, we don’t really want to know the awful shit they’re doing on our behalf. That’s a job best left to our social betters, which is what we expect our politicians to be. Being a social better means putting on a good show, turning chicken shit into chicken salad, as it were. We may not trust the elite to do what’s best for us, but we at least trust them to be discreet.

We’ve got enough on our plates. We lack the emotional resilience and community support to deal with such a heavy psychological burden. As Shakespeare wrote in Henry IV, Part II (and, yes, I had to look it up), “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” If most Americans knew about the horrors of the global economy that enables our lifestyle, they probably wouldn’t be able to function. They certainly wouldn’t continue going along with the program.

We also don’t wanna think about it because we either don’t know how to fix it or we don’t wanna fix it. This imperial arrangement is the source of our comforts and luxuries. Why would we wanna give that up? Even those of us who are willing to go without are at a loss for how to dismantle the Empire. That would require an organized, mass political movement, and we are far too atomized to believe in the plausibility of such an enterprise.

Soft propaganda works on the middle class. They’re already getting a decent share of the imperial tribute. It’s enough for them to know that our foreign policy and economy may not always work out for the best for everyone, but we mean well. For the poorer classes, a stronger message is required.

You may have noticed how working-class whites are renowned for their patriotism. Many of them seem to wrap themselves in the flag as protection from any unpleasant truths about America’s role in the world. People often cling to beliefs more tightly when those beliefs are losing legitimacy or being challenged. This seems to be the case with American nationalism now, as doubts grow about the righteousness of the endless War on Terror.

But what else do they have? NASCAR? Country music? Christian denominations increasingly focused on denying access to abortion and rights to LGBTQ people? Mainstream Protestant Christianity has strayed so far from the “meek shall inherit the earth” message that it now features the Prosperity Gospel, the belief that faith in Jesus can make you rich. In other words, their church is expressly telling them they’re poor because they lack faith.

Is it any wonder they’ve turned to a quasi-religious nationalism? Their communities have collapsed, their job prospects have virtually disappeared and their god has no sympathy for them. Who else can they turn to but Uncle Sam? Of course, this is Uncle Sam in his G.I. Joe incarnation, not the DMV clerk version that complicates their lives with red tape and never provides as much of the social services as he promises.

Trump has no interest in shoring up those domestic programs, but he can put the B-52’s back on 24-hour ready alert to pump some life back into American jingoism. Uncle Sam as death-bringer to the rest of the world is the modern patriot’s preferred role for the U.S. government. The wealthiest nation in the history of the world is apparently unable to provide healthcare or housing or jobs to all of its citizens, but we can blow up the world many times over.

In the face of this onslaught of warmongering and the engineered failure of domestic programs, much of the working class abandons any hope that government can be a caring nurturer, a mother figure, and embraces the military, the nation-state’s disciplinarian, law-giving father figure. The military can provide employment, housing and access to higher education, all the things the civilian government is supposed to provide, or at least help with. In addition, it provides a sense of purpose and community with fellow soldiers and their families.

Even if the military doesn’t provide a great living, and even if you’re not in the military, it’s still an effective rallying cry. The government may suck at providing for its citizens, but we can still kick every other country’s ass. If you’re not (consciously) crazy about militarism, you can tell yourself that we’re making the world safe for Democracy. The decay of American communities and families has left us with few other options for a sense of belonging.

The Empire has given us unparalleled material comfort, but it has left us emotionally and psychologically bereft. We’re the Poor Little Rich Kids, surrounded by entertainments, but unable to fill the hole in our soul. To whom can we reach out but to that big Uncle Sam in the sky? Or, if you’re in the mood for some nurturing, how about Lady Liberty?

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Dirty Hands

In all the outrage over Trump’s behavior, what gets lost is far more significant. Yes, yes, Trump is a crass, boorish schmuck (and likely sexual predator). I get that. But, in substance, his administration isn’t all that different from what came before. There’s overwhelming continuity between his policies and Obama’s and, before him, Dubya’s.

Trump is continuing (and escalating) the bombing of Syria. He’s carrying on the Obama Administration’s military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia (among others) and their support for the Saudis’ war against Yemen. He has maintained Obama and Dubya’s refusal to hold Wall Street accountable for its titanic acts of fraud and malfeasance. Most important of all, despite his many campaign promises to the contrary, he has preserved his predecessors’ slavish devotion to Big Business at the expense of everyone else.

So what’s the big deal? Sure, Trump gets mixed up with unsavory characters like Roy Cohn and Billy Bush. He didn’t even bother to make sure that mic on the bus was turned off before he bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy.” His personal failings are legion and obvious. They’re not well-hidden like JFK’s infidelities, Reagan’s senility or Nixon’s paranoia.

But what does that have to do with the fate of the Free World? In a word, nothing. The discovery of Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky didn’t inspire millions more American men to cheat on their wives, nor did it lead to death and destruction (or at least nothing out of the ordinary). Trump’s personal history of sexual assault isn’t likely to trigger an increase in sexual harassment across the country. But, given the way many people react to Trump, that’s what they seem to believe.

The truth is America’s Business-As-Usual is the real problem. For all the panic over “normalizing” Trump, we forget that our national atrocities were normalized a long time ago. From the genocide of Native Americans to slavery and Jim Crow to the death of over a million people in Iraq alone, the U.S.’s criminal record is long and bloody. Our problems are much older, much more serious and run much deeper than Trump.

So why all the hand-wringing over 45? The difference between Trump and his predecessors is not that he’s a con man and a criminal. He’s a freaking politician, for god’s sake! It’s not like he was running against choirboys and -girls. The difference is Trump is a bad con man and a blatant criminal. He’s not an effective liar. His act is transparent. He offends our sense of propriety because he lacks the subtlety to give a convincing performance. At least Hillary would’ve put some effort into sounding empathetic. Maybe she even feels empathy for her victims, but she still would’ve bombed that airbase in Syria.

Trump has shown us as we truly are: an ugly, violent, rapacious empire. To trot out a tired cliché, Trump isn’t the president we want; he’s the president we deserve. An old, fat, ignorant, belligerent, bigoted, paranoid, entitled, rich, White man who was born into obscene privilege is the perfect symbol of today’s America. He’s got everything, yet he insists that he needs more money and more protection.

We prefer politicians who flatter our vanity. That’s why Obama was the perfect president for our age. He’s a handsome, charismatic, articulate orator whose very appearance (as a Black Person in the White House) confirmed our most deeply-cherished hopes about the continuing viability of the American Dream. We’d rather think of ourselves as the inheritors of MLK’s legacy, glorified by the honeyed words of Obama, borne aloft by his soaring oratory, carried to the Promised Land on rhetorical wings of poetry.

We aren’t people who use smartphones made in Chinese factories so terrible the workers routinely attempt suicide. We aren’t the people whose clothes are made in sweatshops, whose gizmos are made of rare earth minerals mined overseas, poisoning the workers and the surrounding communities with toxic runoff.

We elected a Black man president and nominated a woman for the same job! We didn’t just stand idly by as that Black president deported 3 million people, protected Wall Street from criminal prosecution and continued the wars of his predecessor. We didn’t conveniently ignore that woman’s enthusiasm for “humanitarian” intervention, her lucrative speaking tour of the country’s biggest financial corporations or her careless disregard for national security.

Do you think the Middle Easterners killed by Obama cared that he’s a “woke” African-American who isn’t racist, sexist or Islamophobic? Do you think they passed from this life to the next in peace, content in the knowledge that they had been executed by a sensitive, highly intelligent president? Surely, they must have, for Obama used only the most culturally-sensitive missiles on his drones, the I-Feel-Your-Pain 5000, left over from the Clinton Administration. I’m sure he was kind enough to write their names in Arabic (or Farsi or Somali or…) when he filled out his Kill List.

We all long for the Good Ol’ Days, when our leaders were far more discreet about our mass murders, so we didn’t have to think about ‘em so much. They killed people with class. They didn’t brag about it. They were very dignified. Now we have this ogre who must parade our dirty laundry around like a trophy. He’s made it very difficult to get anything done.

Did Obama ever crow over some drone strike? Certainly not! He understood the importance of maintaining a low profile for that sort of thing. No one likes to think about it, but it must be done if we’re to continue making the world safe for Democracy. It takes a real professional to handle these things with the delicacy and discretion they demand.

Trump is castigated for committing the Elite’s ultimate sin: He’s gotten his hands dirty. In order to be truly presidential, you must have others do your dirty work. Ideally, it would be a nice, clean, surgical drone strike: no muss, no fuss. Only a vulgar oaf would try to draw attention to that unpleasant business.

His personal crimes pale in comparison to any president’s professional crimes. But those crimes have the imprimatur of the state. Those are patriotic crimes done in the name of the Flag, Mom and Apple Pie. Therefore, they’re not crimes.

It’s ironic that the Elite should most loathe Trump, our shallowest president, for it was their shallowness that paved his way. They only wanted to put a happy Black face (and then a woman’s face) on the status quo. They have no interest in fundamental change. They just don’t want to be reminded of the blood on their hands – and ours.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Sports & Patriotism

In his distinctive, scorched-earth style, President Trump is resorting to theatrics to distract from the many miserable failures he’s already piled up since he took up residence in the White House. It’s a dangerous game he’s playing, because, in the process of making a fool of himself, he’s also exposing the propaganda embedded in everyday life.

In this latest controversy, the question seems to be whether professional athletes should be forced to stand during the performance of the national anthem before each game. The fact that this is a controversy at all is highly instructive. Is this not still a free country? Is the First Amendment no longer in effect?

To me, this seems like an open-and-shut case of free expression. But, obviously, to a lot of people this is not about athletes expressing their personal beliefs. Therefore, we’ll have to dig deeper to get to the roots of the issue.

First off the bat is a question I’d like answered: What exactly is the connection between sports and patriotism? As far as I know, no one in the Mainstream Media has even thought to ask. The connection is treated as a given. It seems like we’ve always performed the national anthem before games, so what’s to question?

According to WaPo, the tradition began in the 1918 World Series, a spontaneous musical selection by the military band at Comiskey Park. They were apparently trying to lift the crowd’s spirit, which was dampened by the still-raging World War I. By 1931, when “The Star-Spangled Banner” became the official national anthem, the practice had spread to other sports. Despite a few attempts to abandon it, the custom has held on and become part of the bedrock of American life.

But why? We don’t perform the national anthem before other entertainments, like concerts or plays or movies. Yet every sporting event of any consequence, NFL games, college volleyball games, high school lacrosse games, must be preceded by veneration of the Homeland.

It’s because sports aren’t like other entertainments. Primarily, they’re a celebration of the American and Capitalist value of competition. We send our best out onto what is supposed to be a “level playing field” to determine who’s really the best. It’s a pageant meant to enact the meritocracy that our country is supposed to embody. Even if the victor wins by breaking the rules, we still admire them for their craftiness and especially their monomania to be the best in their chosen field.

Not only must every athletic contest include a de facto loyalty test, but it’s a specific kind of patriotism that is being demanded of all participants and spectators. You must express your support for the police and military of the United States in particular. These are the institutions that “sanctify” the games through their participation in pregame ceremonies. What’s being sanctified is the power of the games to instill in their participants (and spectators) martial virtues, like obedience (a.k.a. “a good attitude”), sacrificing one’s personal well-being for collective glory (“teamwork”) and silent acceptance of physical and emotional pain (“toughness”).

Why only honor the forces of law enforcement at home and abroad? Why not people from the DMV or other civil servants? Because they don’t embody the elite conception of legitimate government. They represent the Dark Side of government: social services for the non-rich provided by taxes on the rich. To the elite, government is only good domestically when it’s enforcing property rights and keeping undesirables in line. Abroad, the military can do pretty much whatever it wants, whether that means killing, torturing, raping, etc.

These are the Heroes, not the weak “peacemakers,” as mentioned by Jesus in one of the wussier parts of the Gospels. And what do the police and military represent? The Power of the United States: Law and Order, strength, obedience, individuals being subsumed into the nation, the euphoria we can tap into by surrendering our personal needs and desires to the will of the national body politic.

This is the idea, as represented by the Flag, to which athletes must pledge allegiance before every game. In exchange for millions of dollars and our adoration, professional athletes must forfeit their First Amendment rights. It seems a small price to pay. After all, this is the greatest country on Earth, the Land of Opportunity. They owe their riches to America, Lady Liberty and the Stars and Stripes.

Never mind that most professional athletes had to overcome poverty, racism and other severe social obstacles to reach the pinnacle of their profession. Many of them are Black, Latino, from poor families and rough neighborhoods, the kinds of people who often can’t avoid run-ins with the Law no matter how carefully they toe the line. They may already have uncomfortably personal relationships with the officers sanctifying their games.

But in their role as athletes, they’re not individuals who overcame extreme hardship to become the best at what they do. They’re ungrateful, spoiled brats who would be nothing without the good ol’ U. S. of A.

Athletes are supposed to put blinders on and focus only on their sport. They can have outside interests as long as it doesn’t interfere with their athletic performance and as long as we don’t have to hear about it. Watching sports is supposed to be escapist entertainment. We don’t want the real world to intrude on the playing field. We have enough problems of our own to worry about. We don’t wanna be lectured about somebody else’s problems by a bunch of millionaires.

Like Roman gladiators, they must pay homage to the Empire before sacrificing themselves for fame and fortune. In the Romans’ day, the price was death and dismemberment. Now it’s concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

It’s not the protesters (or Trump) who politicized football. Sports were already political. They’ve merely made the politics in sports explicit (fittingly for Trump, since he turned politics into pure spectacle). Instead of being “presidential” and letting us have our bread and circus, Trump continues to upset the delicate balance of distraction. Who will still want to defend the Empire when there are no distractions left?

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Selective Outrage

As I mentioned in my last post, I was overcome by depression on Election Night. But my despair lifted after a few days. Then I began to wonder: Why had it been so easy for me to recover from my politically-induced anxiety? I hadn’t made a reasoned argument against fearing for the future of the Republic. Was I simply enjoying my privilege as a member of one of America’s most secure demographics: white, middle-class males?

I had to do some self-analysis and political analysis. I’m not someone who can just feel good and leave it at that. I have to know if I should feel good and, if so, why. (Maybe it’s a Catholic thing.)

It took a while to remember that, to me, all our presidents have been mass murderers (mainly through war or “humanitarian intervention,” but also by way of domestic policies that coddle the rich and throw everyone else under the bus). I forgot because I’ve had to repress my belief that America is an empire to maintain my middle-class lifestyle. The spiritual dissonance of believing that the U.S. is basically a huge Machine of Death, while being a cog in that machine (i.e., working in the corporate world), was too much to bear.

When seen in this light, having a sexual predator in the White House isn’t a big deal. From my perspective (and the perspective of most of the world), every president has a mountain of corpses to his credit. Trump’s sexual harassment and (alleged) assaults are like a bit of rubbish sprinkled on top of his (small, but growing) corpse-mountain. It’s not a good look, but, ultimately, the difference is cosmetic.

I think the main reason for Liberals’ distress is the fact that they’ve bought into the personalization of politics. In recent decades, the Mainstream Media (or “MSM”) have taught us to believe that political candidates should primarily be judged by their personalities rather than their policies. This technique is meant to distract us from real political issues. It’s also an effective way for the MSM to tar-and-feather candidates the Establishment doesn’t like and flatter those they do.

And, boy, do they hate Trump. I doubt any politician in American history has been vilified by the press as thoroughly as he. Granted, he deserves it. He seems to be a despicable human being. But a politician’s personal morality has no bearing on their public policies. Trump can’t wipe out an Afghan wedding party with a vulgar tweet or deny millions of people health insurance by raping a woman. Only government policies can do that.

Considering the many reprehensible people who’ve served in public office throughout American history and escaped serious media scrutiny, it seems unlikely that Trump would’ve attracted this barrage of condemnation if he hadn’t threatened the Establishment through his policy positions. The truth is he actually has taken some meaningfully subversive stands, although you wouldn’t know it from the media coverage.

He repeatedly bashed the decision to invade Iraq. He even criticized Dubya for letting 9/11 happen on his watch, a perfectly reasonable critique that no one in Washington has dared to broach. These positions are so repugnant to the Mainstream that he was booed by the studio audience in televised Republican debates for advancing them. Most important of all, his opposition to “free trade” agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and NAFTA was one of the few consistent stances in his campaign.

These are ideas that threaten the Establishment’s hold on power, because they undermine the geopolitical and economic foundations of the American Empire, and they’re popular. Therefore, the MSM must ignore them and focus on his truly wacky beliefs. His 2012 presidential campaign was built on his membership in the “birther” community, a right-wing cadre of conspiracy theorists who question the validity of Obama’s U.S. citizenship. This and other absurd convictions provide plenty of fodder for mainstream mockery.

The MSM has also latched onto the Russian interference story with a death-grip. Despite a continuing paucity of evidence, each new revelation is treated as the final nail in the coffin of the Trump Administration. They would much rather blame Trump’s election on the Russkies than on the glaring unpopularity of Hillary’s record and platform. (The claim that the 2016 Democratic platform was “the most progressive platform in American history” surely set FDR’s and LBJ’s corpses spinning, never mind McGovern.) Hillary is the living embodiment of the Washington Consensus, and her loss represented a stunning rejection of their agenda.

The MSM are clearly trying to drive Trump from office. This is a noble effort on its face, but their standards for what constitutes “unpresidential” behavior seem shallow and self-serving. They want to paint Trump as a vulgar puppet in a Russian plot, thereby preserving the status quo and providing propaganda support for the continuing US/NATO military buildup along Russia’s western border.

Trump should be toppled, but the best reasons to do so are for his intensifying the policies established by his predecessors and cherished by the Establishment: killing people overseas and oppressing the most vulnerable at home. Of course, removing Trump on that basis would weaken the Powers That Be, and the MSM won’t do that. After all, if they helped overturn the status quo, who would sign their paychecks?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Behind the Curtain

Like most people on the Left, I was despondent on Election Night. Head in hands, I tried to make sense of it all, tried to convince myself that it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. I tried to believe that our country hadn’t been taken over by Fascists. It took a few days, but I eventually snapped out of it.

The weekend after the election I went on Twitter to try and help build a new Democratic Party. I replied to a few Hillary supporters (whom I will hereafter refer to as “Liberals”), saying that we needed a party that actually stood for something and wasn’t just Republican Lite. Their responses were instructive. One said I was “clearly delusional.” Another said my comment was a sign of “latent misogyny.”

So, to recap, my substantive critique of Hillary’s candidacy was brushed aside as either sexist or totally out-to-lunch. I quickly realized what should’ve been obvious beforehand: Social media platforms aren’t the ideal venue for constructive political debate. But, in defense of my opponents, they appeared to be women, and I am a white, middle-class man. They had much more to fear from a Trump presidency than I did.

Trump quickly justified their fears by adopting the misogynist policies of a typical Republican administration, limiting access to abortion at home and abroad and showing zero interest in addressing the gender wage gap. He has even outdone the GOP establishment in terms of racism and xenophobia by issuing a travel ban against seven Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East. Once again, two traditionally marginalized groups, women and people of color (POC), are being sacrificed to “make America great again.”

But the mainstream media’s (MSM) response to this has been far more hostile than their reaction to similar policies instituted by George W. Bush and Barack Obama during their presidencies. And Liberals’ immediate loathing of President Trump outstripped even their disdain of Dubya following the 2000 election debacle. There’s plenty of criticism of his policies, but this is nearly drowned out by the chorus of outrage at his behavior. What really seems to have people up in arms is Trump’s boorishness, which is considered “unbecoming of the Office of the President of the United States of America.”

For this reason, it’s been hard for me to take much of the “Resistance” seriously. The main criticism of Trump is a matter of style, not substance. Beneath the crass surface, there remains significant continuity between the Trump and Obama Administrations (just as there was significant continuity between Obama and his predecessor).

Trump has merely escalated Obama’s wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Somalia, most of which he inherited from Dubya and did little to nothing in eight years to end or diminish. Denying entry to the Homeland to dozens or hundreds of people from these countries seems like small potatoes compared to killing thousands of their countrymen and -women each year.

Trump has also continued the tradition of handing control of the economy to the Captains of Wall Street, especially those from Goldman Sachs. We can surely expect a positively Obama-like deference to the High Priests of Finance, whom the previous administration spared from prosecution for the egregious acts of fraud and malfeasance that precipitated the Great Recession.

Given her record, there was every reason to believe that Hillary would sustain these policies. At least with Trump there’s a chance (albeit tiny and shrinking by the day) he’ll chart a different course for the country. Even if you’re a woman or POC, the issues on which mainstream Democrats and Republicans actually differ (abortion, LGBTQ rights) are minor compared to those on which they agree (economics, foreign policy).

As much as the MSM would like us to believe that everything was fine until Trump came along, things haven’t changed that much since he took office. We haven’t been taken over by Fascists. Trump has spouted a lot of vile invective reminiscent of Hitler and Mussolini, but he bears a much closer resemblance to the Wizard of Oz, a seasoned showman who draws our attention away from the real action. If you pull back the curtain, you’ll find the same Wizards of Wall Street who got us into this mess in the first place.