By Norman Ball
“America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.”—Allen Ginsberg, America
With the TPP cell-door slamming shut, it’s curious how Fox and MSNBC take turns deriding the only two guys prepared to stand in its way.
Critical thinking in America politics has been edged out by meme-factory conveyor belts and Facebook repeater towers eager to share the latest red-blue speedbump with five hundred of their closest friends.
One bit of unexamined kookiness (a favored Fox News trope) is that there’s still such a thing as operative liberals in America. Another, emanating from both sides, is that the country will go down the tubes should Party X prevail against Party Y. Despite decades of tag-team, blue-red empire wars, many still swallow the channelized point-counterpoint hyperbole. Has all the blood rushed out of America’s head into its remote control? We face two puppets, one master; two tongues, one beast.
Facebook’s been falling over itself of late to warn us that, should Trump win (presumably by popular vote—small detail) democracy is lost and fascism awaits. Of course the social media giant is not about to historicize its own creeping advance on panopticonic lock-down. The fact is we’re already in inverted totalitarianism (RIP, Sheldon Wolin). So at worst going forward, we’re falling from low-slung branches.
Here’s some breaking news from Channel Not: most Americans are uncomplaining cogs in a vast right-wing conspiracy. You might ask how a nation of wall-to-wall reactionaries could assemble itself in the first place. The Bell Curve has a theory and it involves loaded dice.
As Edward Bernays once generously allowed, probably after too many drinks: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.” Nice bit of sophistry there. Translation? Pull the lever of your choice. We’ve got your head covered, and as a backstop, we own the levers too.
Chris Hedges puts it all in context with a comparative ideology benchmark that shows just how little is at stake in American political discourse:
“In Europe, America’s Democratic Party would be a far-right party. The Republican Party would be extremist. There is no liberal—much less left or progressive—organized political class in the United States.”
Berlin-based Bloomberg View columnist Leonid Bershidsky offers much the same:
“What Sanders suggests, however, is mainstream policy for any European center-right party.”
Let that sink in Fox-heads. Sanders is a right-winger on any spectrum worth its calibration. Of course Americans know this isn’t true because TV has taken great pains to tell them otherwise: Sanders is a socialist way over there (pan far-left). Trump is a fascist way over there (pan far-right). In truth, you could spit the distance between Sanders and Trump or even Cruz. So why all the social media do-or-dieness? American politics is a jammed-together intramural bitch-fest trying to pass itself off as a thought-provoking panoply of diverse opinion. It behooves the establishment to keep up fractious appearances. However no one lands a real punch, the babes are distractively hot and change can’t get a changing room.
Teacup, meet storm.
On the way to venturing nothing, TV joins politics in touching all the requisite identity politics bases. By the way, Afghan villagers know the futility of diversity without progressivity by way of successive drone campaigns waged first by a white man, then a black man, and perhaps soon enough, by a white woman. American bullshit delivers the graveyard across all demographics. Identity politics can be boiled down to the following narcissistic non-starter: when does someone who looks like me get to murder brown-skinned strangers from impossible heights? Whereas targeted third-worlders—savvier by far—know it’s not the finger on the trigger. It’s the bleedin’ trigger!
Call it the right-shift, divide and amplify model. First, you ghettoize the natural center by swinging the cameras away. Then, you mock up a ‘battle of ideas’ with two right-shifted, bellowing soundstages. By stamping out moderation, energized reform becomes all but impossible. Mission accomplished. How can a How can progressive catch a break when pragmatic centrism has been relegated to a darkened dais? Even the best ghost stories need a flashlight. Deprived of oxygenating spectacle, untold tales wither away. Rockefeller Republicns find themselves lumped in with Che Guevara –all the crazies left of stage. The Fox-MSNBC shell-game camouflages the only chasm that counts: whether you’re on TV or not. The elite have firewalls for their firewalls. Fortunately, Trump has a helicopter.
It’s as though someone took 315 million human beings, packed them into a 5 x 8 foot cell, then painted a line down the middle of the floor before instructing everyone to pick their favored side. What’s fascinating in a cognitive sense is that, no sooner is the room divided than sectarianism becomes the governing principle, even though the direness of the universal condition dwarfs any small advantage one group might gain over the other. The room becomes a claustrophobic hell-hole of low-stakes game theory. Call it a bug in the software but people seem to lose all sense of proportion when a line, any line, gets drawn. Maybe it’s a primate territorial thing. Somebody’s studied us very well indeed.
A vibrant political spectrum should reflect the unchecked eccentricities of a free-thinking people. Whereas a society content to sit atop the head of an ideological pin will possess all the ambiance of a Stepford Wife village. Somehow, large groups of Americans have been coaxed away from their uncoaxed inclinations. Mind control comes to mind.
Amidst this crisis-by-truncation, we should content ourselves with drafting the most palatable right-wingers in our midst. That would be the two party pariahs, Trump and Sanders. Together (in some jerry-rigged form of coalition government), they’d make for a gloriously disruptive ticket. Give Bernie a portfolio: Interior, Justice and Edumacation. Leave Trump to divest empire responsibilities in The Ukraine and Syria (along with their yuge costs) to fellow nationalist Putin. That’s probably enough to earn the Trumpster a Dallas ’63 moment. Frankly it’s a risk we should be willing to let The Donald take. Eccentric billionaires come around once in a generation. Perot was the last one. Self-beholden, they send shivers down the establishment’s spine. Sadly, they’re the only chance the People get. Too bad they’re always a little bit crazy.
A Trump-Sanders administration would turn the political class on its head, maybe for good. Combined, their side-by-side groundswells would gather up 99.9% of the clear-headed. Overnight, everything would stop making sense. The same old venerable bullshit would lose its preferential station at the trough. Anything that discombobulates the entrenched buys room for the People. More dada please.
Hip to an existential threat, the Top have dropped their perfunctory red and blue kimonos in a rush to embrace their TV nemeses and real-life dining partners. Who has time for bad kabuki when the very notion of Top is under assault? Mitch McConnell has suddenly realized Hillary’s not such a bad egg after all. Aghast at the prospect of his party’s presumptive nominee, Paul Ryan has openly called for anyone else but.
If the elite were smart, they’d reserve their apoplexy for off-camera moments. However this train-wreck is so rivetingly existential, it commands all available air-time. No sooner does some establishment Grand Poobah openly bemoan the sweaty rubes of NASCAR nation (the main drivers, we’re assured, behind the Trump bus), than the Donald’s numbers go up again. The People smell panic and disarray, and are relishing it.
NASCAR my ass. Recently, the Guardian had a fascinating article on the silent Trump army, in all its sheepish glory, risking marital strife and worse to whisper their man’s name in the shower. Admittedly anecdotal, it includes a gay Arab Muslim, a Hispanic attorney, an Occupy protester, a biomedical engineer and a Harvard grad. There’s even a scientist who likes Donald and Bernie. Imagine that. Clearly the Trump revolution has departed the confines of the Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan club. Toss in Bernie’s folks and boy, do the elite have a tectonic shift on their hands.
Will the people shake off their TV frames long enough to perceive their own unfiltered interests? Tune in to the channels that will never say.
We have nothing to fear but false consciousness. Trouble is, that’s a lot. Decades in the making, manufactured consent works much like an electric fence. Can it be scaled? Trump’s personality is no boon. Yes he’s an insufferable ass. But he could be our insufferable ass. We’ve fashioned tight, exacting standards for our wardens, which is another way of saying we are the prime obstacle to a Trump-Sanders ticket. For reasons known only to the Tavistock Institute, political aisle-crossing holds all the appeal of a marital break-up. This cycle our cognitive dissonance is humming like an alien implant. Man, they’ve really fucked us up.
So yes, 315 million TV-eyed American sardines will be hard to sway should such an alliance even present itself: Trump and Bernie? They’re on whole opposite sides of our 5 x 8 cell. That’d take some reaching. It’ll never work. Television, damnable energy sink, has robbed us of a sense both of our own collective strength and our ridiculous proximity. Decades ago, David Foster Wallace addressed the television-induced paradox of communal isolation, coining the inverted motto e unibus pluram: we are alone all together.
This leads us to a hopeful bit of contrariness. Our cramped conditions have metastasized into a shared consciousness that’s waiting to be tapped. Habituated for decades to diminished expectations and a window-ledge’s worth of political latitude, we’re shoved up against one another (albeit in separate TV rooms) and don’t even know it. Therein lies our captors’ careless and errant gift. The Stockholm Syndrome can be flipped to our advantage. Join hands across some Great Divide? People, it’s a coffee stain on the remote control!
Is something different this time? A desperate and unaddressed energy is venting up from all sides. Think of the Titanic’s steerage passengers struggling to reach the upper deck. Trump and Sanders are the improbable lightning rods for a movement that is truly seismic, and only appears bifurcated due to its split-screen mascots. Some sort of co-Presidency would seal a gap that’s hardly there anyway. Imagine the potential. Both men would act as a brake on the other. Come on, America’s not going anywhere, radically speaking. That’s been trained out of us. Trump-Sanders is our best shot at firing the overlords and precipitating a slow march back to where America’s strength has always resided: the vital center. You know they keep us from our strength for a reason.
“The one thing [Sanders and I] very much agree on is trade. We both agree that we are getting ripped off by China, by Japan, by Mexico, everyone we do business with”—Donald Trump, Feb. 7
That’s no small one thing, Mr. Trump. In fact, TPP is the policy clincher that should, in a clear-eyed world, cement the coalition. Trump and Sanders are devout nationalists who detest TPP for the anti-competitive America jobs-killer that it is. TPP is arguably the greatest threat to national sovereignty since the onset of Nazi global ambitions.
In a post-TPP world, the same forces that captured government in the first place would finish the job by making the Presidency perfunctory and answerable to multinational bodies. Clinton, Cruz, Rubio and Kasich are body-snatched globalists who’ll need a shoehorn to fit into national office. Their empire patrons are on-board for WW3. Trump and Sanders, refreshingly retro-50’s, show an abiding interest in American stuff that’s almost quaint in its nostalgia. Whereas right out of the gate, all the rest have an unacknowledged—and fundamentally deceptive—conflict of venue.
The yugeness of Trump-Sanders’s populist synergies cannot be overstated, except who’s going to state it? Fox? MSNBC? Wake up people to your petulant Facebook battles over comparatively small potatoes. TPP is the whole ball of wax.
Coalition governments are not prone to broad affections. Trump and Sanders would have to be convinced on the potency of such an alliance which, when one considers the momentous egos involved, seems rather unlikely, yet a prospect worth discussing nonetheless.
The lesser-of-two-evils calculus has delivered us, in ratcheted increments, to the shadowy threshold of the Panopticon, if we’ve not crossed that Rubicon already. Every time the polis exhales, the system constricts around it. We’ll see Patriot Act 5 before we see nail clippers on a flight to LaGuardia. And oh, they’ll kill Trump if they can’t cheat him out of the job. So yes, this excursion’s been a fanciful time-waster.
But who knows. In this cycle, the bottom has a chance at gulping some fresh air. The strength and breadth of the current movement(s) are born of truly existential rumblings impervious to the usual TV gloss. The People have seen the movie and are demanding a new script. In the inimitable wisdom of crowds, they know an iceberg cometh.