Roger Harris: The New Congress and the Rolling Catastrophe of the US Body Politic

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Bathed in the soothing waters of the Blue Wave, such that it was, a new US Congress will be baptized on January 3rd. But what portends when “Mad Dog” Mattis, arch racist Jeff Sessions, and deep state spooks are canonized by self-identified liberals and leftists as bulwarks against fascism? When all mainstream “opposition” politics can be reduced to a single issue: Trump. And when the midterm elections ignored deepening impoverishment at home, endless wars abroad, and climate calamity – let alone the tax cut for the super-rich – and instead focused on the “threat” posed by (take your pick) immigrants or the Russians.

For the first time ever, the Gallup poll reported that most Democrats favor socialism over capitalism. And for good reason: as the Occupy movement proclaimed, “the system isn’t broken, it’s fixed.” An observer from the UK quipped, “If the midterm elections would have changed anything, they would not have been allowed.”

The American body politic is in deep malaise with the current administration. But neoliberal rule is the disease, and Trump merely the symptom. The conditions that allowed the ascendancy of Trump were the result of the neoliberal policies of Obama/Bush and of their predecessors. Trump does not so much represent a break or reversal of Obama era policies. Rather, we are suffering a continuation and intensification of those policies as the body politic lurches to the right.

The Leadup to the New Congress

The good news for US democracy was the largest voter turnout in half a century for the congressional mid-term elections. For the 66% of the US population under 50 years, it was the highest in their lifetime. The more sobering news is that even with this record turnout, the majority of eligible voters didn’t vote, while the pool of eligible voters is diminished by felony disenfranchisement and other laws and practices depending on the state.

Beyond the microcosm of the corporate two-party system, there is a universe out there and even issues that transcend one’s affection or distaste for Trump. What if we had an electoral system in which the vast majority of eligible voters were motivated to participate?

A glimpse of the smoldering discontent within the US electorate was seen in the vaguely insurgent candidacies in 2016; of Trump, with his faux populist appeal to those dispossessed by an economy that left them behind, and of Sanders with his critique of income inequality in a rigged system. For now, those grassroots potentials for genuine change have been contained and domesticated within the two-party system, dedicated above all to preserve existing power relationships.

Only 30 of 435 seats (7%) in the House were considered truly contested. Fully 74% of the seats were considered solidly safe for their respective parties; 183 for the Democrats and 137 for the Republicans.

In my one-party state of California, Senator-for-life Diane Feinstein ran against a fellow Democrat. Our peculiar institution of placing only the top two winners of the primaries, regardless of party, on the general election ballot barred voters from voting for, or even writing in, a third-party choice, let alone a Republican.

So, the majority of eligible voters sat out the midterm spectacle, simply not bothering with politicians awash in ever more obscene tsunamis of corporate cash.

Nancy Pelosi, representing San Francisco’s congressional district, spent an astronomical $5,111,387 for her virtually uncontested House seat. Her Republican opponent spent a paltry $12,443, barely enough to place a campaign statement on the ballot and pay for the postage to mail it. Had Pelosi sat out the campaign as did her opponent, Pelosi still would have coasted to victory on party and name recognition.

There is a reason why Pelosi, running in an absolutely safe district, outspent her opponent 410 to 1. Pelosi doled out her millions to other candidates running for the House who will then repay the favor by electing her majority leader of the new Congress. In other words, she served as the bag lady for her corporate donors to gain that position, which is not insignificant. Were Trump to become any more puffed up with ego and explode, taking Pence with him, Pelosi would be the next POTUS paid for by Facebook, Amazon, and the American Hospital Association.

Elections as currently constituted are auditions by politicians performing for the big money interests who cast those best at conning the electorate.

Who Are Our Friends – Who Are Our Enemies?
The present oligarch of the Oval Office is not a friend of working people, even if in his erratic behavior he may on occasion stumble to the left, as with his flirtation with détente rather than nuclear war with Russia. Cautionary note: Trump is not about to reverse the US imperial project.

What was shocking about Trump’s intention to withdraw US troops from Syria was not the suddenness of the announcement. In fact, this was a campaign promise made when he was candidate Trump and reiterated since. What shocked and indeed infuriated the establishment was that a politician was actually following through on a campaign promise that would draw down a US military invasion and occupation. For now, at least, Trump has broken with the time-honored US electoral tradition (e.g., Obama’s promise to close Guantánamo) of promising the electorate peace and giving them war.

Remember the Democrats’ promise of a “peace dividend” at the end of the old Cold War in the early 1990s? Now they are the war party nipping at Trump’s haunches from the right, goading him into an ever more aggressive new Cold War. Democrats voted 2 to 1 to increase, rather than cut, Trump’s first military budget. Democrats are vehemently against drawing down US troops in the Middle East and positively apoplectic about the threat of peace breaking out in the Korean Peninsula.

It goes without saying that Trump and the Republicans are no an alternative for progressive social change. Unfortunately, traditional liberalism is also a dead end. There has been no major progressive legislation passed since the mid-1970s. According to Noam Chomsky, the last liberal president was Richard Nixon. Liberals, because they no longer even pretend to have a progressive agenda, are relegated to the role of, on one hand, legitimizing those to the right and, on the other, attacking genuine progressives, especially those representing third parties such as the Greensor the Peace and Freedom Party.

In the Hall of Mirrors Called the Democratic Party, the Lesser Evil Becomes the Other Evil
With brand Obama, the Democratic Party had peddled hope to the masses. That advertising appeal no longer passes the red face test. The new marketing strategy by leftish apologists for the Democrats is to be sophisticatedly unapologetic about the deep corruption of the electoral party of their choice.

• Noam Chomsky laments“a New Democrat leadership that panders to the donor class.”

• Author Thomas Frank regrets the Democratic Party going from the party of the people to “the party of the rich elites.”

• Filmmaker Michael Moore bemoans how the Democrats paved the way for Trump.

• Blogger Paul Street deplores: “Yes, the Democrats are horrible. They make my skin crawl. I’ve documented their record as a pack of ‘lying neoliberal warmongers…’”

And then they all urge us, in the words of Street, “to hold one’s nose and vote ‘for’ the Dems” once again, and again, and again…and forever. Presumably to reward them for bad behavior.

The latest addition to the Democratic Party leadership is party caucus leader Hakeem Jeffries, an African American from New York City. Although a member of the Progressive Caucus, he earned his spurs attacking single-payer healthcare and Bernie Sanders from the right, while being a leading champion of charter schools and the security state. It is difficult to tell left from right in the hall of mirrors called the Democratic Party.

With the realignment of the Democratic Party, it is no longer the “lesser evil” but the “other evil.” Meanwhile, both the economy and the polity have become more concentrated and less democratic with an ever-wealthier elite perched atop of an ever-growing surveillance state, mass incarceration, and censored media on the internet.

Lacking a substantive progressive agenda, Trump is the best thing that could happen to the Democrats, whose main platform is the resurrection of the anti-Trump candidate. Will it be Oprah, Hillary, Biden, Beto, or even Bernie? The Democratic Party leadership preferred Trump as the Republican presidential candidate, showing it chose to risk a Trump presidency rather than a Sanders one, which would have been beyond the comfort zone of their corporate funders.

That was the dark secret revealed by DNC emails made public by Wikileaks. Which well explains why the Democrats have been obsessed with promoting Russiagate as a distraction and are so vindictive against Wikileaks editor Julian Assange.

A Political Party of Another Kind

With the Democrats and Republicans feeding from the same corporate trough, how different can the two parties be? The following report on a political party of another kind gives an indication.

Washington Post heiress Lally Weymouth held a swank party in the Hamptons for the ruling elite. In keeping with the virulently anti-Trump/pro-Democrat editorial line of the Post, the guest list included Senator Chuck Schumer, former governor/senator Bob Graham, and other Democratic Party politicians along with billionaire funders of the party such as George Soros, Ronald Lauder, and Carl Icahn.

But, hey, this was a ruling class party. So also attending were Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, a number of Trump’s cabinet secretaries, and fat-cat Republican funder David Koch of the Koch brothers.

As reporter Maureen Callahan observed: “Weymouth’s party is the latest reminder that for all the bruising rhetoric, the constant polls showing a deeply divided America and the most polarizing president in history, our battle isn’t red vs. blue, right vs. left: It’s about the 1% vs. the rest of us. They laugh as we take their political theater for real.”

Roger Harris is on the state central committee of the Peace and Freedom Party, the only ballot-qualified socialist and feminist party in California.

8 thoughts on “Roger Harris: The New Congress and the Rolling Catastrophe of the US Body Politic

  1. dL

    For the first time ever, the Gallup poll reported that most Democrats favor socialism over capitalism.

    Not surprising. From Bastiat’s “The Law,” The Fatal Idea of Legal Plunder:


    Under the pretense of organization, regulation, protection, or encouragement, the law takes property from one person and gives it to another; the law takes the wealth of all and gives it to a few — whether farmers, manufacturers, ship owners, artists, or comedians. Under these circumstances, then certainly every class will aspire to grasp the law, and logically so.

    The excluded classes will furiously demand their right to vote — and will overthrow society rather than not to obtain it. Even beggars and vagabonds will then prove to you that they also have an incontestable title to vote. They will say to you:

    “We cannot buy wine, tobacco, or salt without paying the tax. And a part of the tax that we pay is given by law — in privileges and subsidies — to men who are richer than we are. Others use the law to raise the prices of bread, meat, iron, or cloth. Thus, since everyone else uses the law for his own profit, we also would like to use the law for our own profit. We demand from the law the right to relief, which is the poor man’s plunder. To obtain this right, we also should be voters and legislators in order that we may organize Beggary on a grand scale for our own class, as you have organized Protection on a grand scale for your class. Now don’t tell us beggars that you will act for us, and then toss us, as Mr. Mimerel proposes, 600,000 francs to keep us quiet, like throwing us a bone to gnaw. We have other claims. And anyway, we wish to bargain for ourselves as other classes have bargained for themselves!”

    And what can you say to answer that argument!

    In other words, if the economic system is popularly viewed as sanctioning legal plunder for the few, everyone else will rationally demand a right to relief, the poor man’s plunder. Corruption, not jealousy or ignorance, drives a demand for state socialism.

    I would also add that the Repubs hate socialism but love the stasi. That’s worse than demanding state socialism. The inevitability of the stasi from central planning is why we are supposed to hate socialism.

    According to Noam Chomsky, the last liberal president was Richard Nixon.

    Yeah, well, Noam’s wrong in this instance.

    Liberals, because they no longer even pretend to have a progressive agenda, are relegated to the role of, on one hand, legitimizing those to the right and, on the other, attacking genuine progressives, especially those representing third parties such as the Greensor the Peace and Freedom Party.

    Why would liberals have the same agenda? Liberal and progressive are not the same thing. In the American political parlance, “liberal” is an accusation. Very few people actually identify as one. When was the last time one saw “Proud Liberal” in a political campaign commercial?

  2. Jim

    On the one hand, I like this commentary because it’s pretty good at attacking the Rs and Ds equally. On the other, as dL points out, the terms are confused to the point of being annoying. And he didn’t even mention ‘neoliberal’, which just seems to be the choice term of derision by those on the left when they think they won’t be taken seriously by calling someone a fascist or racist.

  3. SocraticGadfly

    Nixon may, or may not, have been the last “classical liberal.” Otherwise, yes, Noam is wrong.

    And, on Trump pulling out of Syria? Not so fast. In two separate stories since then, he’s said we could put troops back in there via Iraq and that we could actually put in more servicemen (mainly not infantry though), theoretically on a shorter-term basis, to help Turkey transition to a larger role in controlling problems in northern and northeastern Syria.

  4. dL

    ‘neoliberal”, which just seems to be the choice term of derision by those on the left when they think they won’t be taken seriously by calling someone a fascist or racist.

    There are some who have embraced that term, primarily as a way to distinguish themselves from libertarians. The Niskanen Center and The Adam Smith Institute are examples.

  5. paulie

    I actually do call myself a liberal, meaning libertarian, to distinguish myself from paleo “libertarians”, alt reich “libertarians,” progressives, state socialists, conservatives and authoritarians alike.

    Nixon was not a liberal, classical or otherwise, he was a racist McCarthyite and paranoid bigot with delusions of persecution. He did however have some big government tendencies which caused some conservative-libertarian fusionists to give up on the Republicans in addition to his rampant corruption and dictatorialism which caused many liberal and moderate Republicans to go Democrat.

    His most lasting legacy, however, is the southern strategy of bringing white Dixiecrat conservative-authoritarians into the Republican fold, where they have become dominant. He also had a lot to do with ramping up the drug war and prolonging US involvement in the wars in Southeast Asia.

    It’s true that Trump can’t be trusted on any of his promises, including getting out of Syria.

  6. paulie

    Comments from site migration:

    Fernando Mercado Post author
    January 6, 2019 at 17:22
    I actually never noticed, they didn’t use the term Neoliberal.

    paulie
    January 7, 2019 at 10:11
    In what ways is a neoliberal different from a liberal? Or are people who use the word implying that liberalism is coming back from the grave?

    I know neocon has some differences with conservative, in that it has no substantial emphasis on economic issues; it started out as a reaction by people from the left against radically liberal social views in the 1960s and morphed into largely a hawkish foreign policy project led by ex-trotskyites who opposed the USSR on sectional grounds. Neoliberal on the other hand has always been kind of murky. I haven’t seen it used as anything other than a pejorative, unlike liberal and neoconservative, although those are more often than not used as pejoratives these days as well.

    Fernando Mercado Post author
    January 7, 2019 at 17:26
    “Neoliberalism is the 20th-century resurgence of 19th-century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism and free market capitalism”

    Although Politicans associated with Neoliberalsim like Nancy Pelosi are pro-interventionist rather than non-interventionist.

    paulie
    January 7, 2019 at 18:18
    I guess that depends on the definition of the term, as I said it is murky to me. I went with what I found on wikipedia but am open to a different definition if anyone wants to cite or propose one.

    Jim
    January 7, 2019 at 19:56
    The wikipedia article is useless.

    From r/neoliberal (people who actually call themselves neoliberals) about what they believe:

    * Individual choice and markets are of paramount importance both as an expression of individual liberty and driving force of economic prosperity

    * The state serves an important role in establishing conditions favorable to competition through preventing monopoly, providing a stable monetary framework, and relieving acute misery and distress

    * Free exchange and movement between countries makes us richer and has led to an unparalleled decline in global poverty

    * Public policy has global ramifications and should take into account the effect it has on people around the world regardless of nationality

    paulie
    January 7, 2019 at 20:01
    Sounds pretty close to the other definition to me. But either one is fine. Points 1 and 3 above are solidly libertarian, 2 not so much but within a more or less minarchist framework, and point 4 is orthogonal relation to libertarianism. Are there a lot of people who call themselves neoliberals? I haven’t heard of many.

    Fernando Mercado Post author
    January 7, 2019 at 20:17
    From a progressive point of view: Nobody really uses the term neoliberal in a positive manner, much like how nobody openly calls themself a Neocon. Neoliberalism has usually been used when referring to Corporate Democrats who exploit crony capitalism, while pretending that they’re fighting for Left-Wing ideas. EX: Neoliberals fought long and hard for Obamacare which is a Right-Wing idea passed off as a Left-Wing one

  7. dL

    Neoliberal on the other hand has always been kind of murky.

    The most charitable definition== favoring a market economy while rejecting minarchism. That succinctly sums up how those who self-identify as neoliberal define it.

    A less charitable definition==redefined mission statement for cocktail party sniffing think tankers who realize capitalism + limited government relegates them to the kitchen staff(i.e, irrelevant). That is, the permanence of big government is the only serious starting point.

    An even lesser charitable definition==the right-wing political economic theory that is responsible for the backlash rise of right-wing populism. There is nothing new about it. It has been in place since Reagan/Thatcher.

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