The Slowest Death
November 11, 2016 Leave a comment
Liberalism as an actually existing political reality is crumbling before our eyes. I will not concern myself with the Baurillarian nature of events in this piece of writing: Baudrillard’s idea that the ‘fake’ comes before the ‘authentic’, that the ‘copy’ precedes the original, is the fundamental Post-Modern condition, is a way of looking at recent events that could trick someone into the view that it is not just Liberalism crumbling but reality itself. Liberalism was for so long taken for granted, even ‘natural’, that its retreat therefore seems like reality itself is falling in on itself. If all you have known and are sure of melts into air, does it not have the psychological effect of destabilising reality – a reality experienced through digital screens anyway?
A Donald Trump presidency, for example, was used as a comic device for years prior to his campaign for high office ( see this clip of The Simpsons, here for example. In ‘Back To The Future Part 2‘, the film portrays a High School bully who becomes President, a character which was a thinly veiled satire of Donald Trump). This is what is meant when it is said the ‘copy’ comes before the ‘original’: Donald Trump as of November 9th, 2016, has just been confirmed as the next President of the United States of America. His ideas for policy positions are the following Liberal Heterodoxies: building a ‘beautiful’ wall on the American border with Mexico; torture of terror suspects and the murder of their families; deporting undocumented Mexicans from America; scrapping free trade deals with numerous countries; banning all Muslims from entering the United States. All of these are to name but a few from a quite remarkable list. The imagined dystopia may well be upon us for real.
The Historian Yuval Noah Harari argues in his book ‘Sapiens’ that human history from The French Revolution to our contemporary mess could be seen as a battle between ‘Liberty and Equality’- and how these two are in a constant battle over the soul of Liberalism. This is why Liberals can be found on both the political Left and the political Right: one side is keen on redistribution measures to increase equality, the other primarily concerned with the right of the individual to trade freely without governmental coercion. The French Revolution ushered into practice the tenants of Liberalism – in all their incompatible utopianism- to replace the Divine Right of kings to rule. The motto: ‘Liberty; Egality; Fraternity’ became a motto of the new Liberal French State. It does not take much thought to come to the conclusion that the words in this slogan may indeed be incompatible with one another: how can there be freedom with equality, as Harari points out?
Can collective rights ever be able to take privilege over individual rights? What does it mean to be free? Is it enough to surrender your rights to the ‘Leviathan’ as espoused by Thomas Hobbes in return for protection, or is to be free something else other than freedom from tyranny? Despite these problems -and often incompatibility of Liberalism on the political right and political Left- one form of Liberalism or another has become the foundation for modern Capitalism and society.
Liberalism today is often thought of as a world-view pushing ‘open markets and open borders’ backed by ideas of ‘Human Rights’ and the sanctity of individual Liberty in the form of freedom from tyranny. This open-ness & respect for the rule of law is being restricted all over the world- it is not just Trump. He is a symptom rather than a catalyst for this revolution. He joins a Liberal backlash: Duterte elected in the Philippines; the rise of neo-Maoism in China; ‘Brexit'( which lest not forget, has ushering in a Prime Minister who has contempt for the Human Rights Act which was adopted into U.K law; The growing authoritarianism of the Prime Minister of Hungary. In a Globalised world, with trade and the internet, for example, Liberalism was an all conquering ideological force across borders and ethic identities. The question: how did it come to this? In the previous few years, Neo-Liberal economics and the basic ‘Liberal Consensus’ seemed immovable and ingrained, to the point whereby even those critical of it were frustrated that the its advocates seemed to actually believe Neo-Liberalism was simply ‘natural’ rather than a political construct. Simply put, resistance was futile. How can one resist something seemingly natural? Resisting really existing Capitalism was like trying to resist Newton’s Laws of Motion.1
I would postulate that Liberals ( on both the left and the right) find themselves in this cataclysmic miasma because the reality they have shaped is a reality detached from the rose-tinted vantage point of their world-view. The have simply believed their own false consciousness. The tools that would help Liberalism fight back against the Nationalist, Conservative and often racist back-lash would be an anathema to Neo-Liberal Philosophy – importantly not just Neo-Liberal economic policy- that has remade the world over the last 40 years. This Liberal malaise is related to just how depressing the status quo of being a citizen of the ‘Liberal’ world is right now. The depressing reality of the status quo is only matched by the even more depressing reaction to it from the position of the Liberal consensus. Liberalism, simply put, has no way of aspiring to overcome the problem it has initiated, in part because it cannot see these problems as significant problems in the first place. Liberalism today is blind to its own criticisms; because of this it cannot offer a world-view, an aspirational way out of the deadlock of the early 21st Century.
Liberalism has always been, and perhaps always will be a broad church. There are elements of it to be found in radical leftist circles: Marx believed Communism would only come into being once a society had passed from Feudalism through Capitalism, built on Liberal values and respect for freedom; Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to rule out immigration caps has a certain ring of Liberal Utopianism that we all must be seen as individuals, not as members of one country or another. The oft-mocked ‘safe spaces’ of the academic left, and the associated demand for ‘trigger warnings’ on products are designed out of respect for an individual’s right not to be offended. On the right, the Liberalism of various European governments over the last few years has given us Austerity policies and somewhat pernicious attacks on the Welfare State- which seem to fill no purpose whatsoever other than a vague belief that the Welfare State creates idleness. The idea that economics should be guided by ‘experts’ finds advocates in those that behave in awe of Alan Greenspan, the lauded former Chair of The Central Reserve Bank of America, and mainstream Liberal economics found in the pages of ‘The Economist’; others believe – such as Milton Freidman- such state backed experts should be disregarded for a laissez-faire approach to Capitalism. Some Liberals of the Left favour redistribution throughout taxation to help the least well of in their own country – and even others abroad to a lesser degree through foreign aid; others on the political right favour individual charity as the means to alleviate the worst of poverty. The E.U is built on a technocratic pragmatism- we, the bureaucrats know best; we will fudge our way to prosperity taking all member states with us. All these are Liberal positions – if not all, just like the French state found out, are compatible with the others. It shows how Liberalism can mutate and find a host in different arenas and thoughts. All the Liberal impulses however are all based on interpretations of how to combine ‘Freedom’, ‘Human Rights’ and ‘Democracy’ together without the world imploding.
Liberalism’s most dominant strand in the last 40 years has been ‘Neo-liberalism’. Often thought of as a purely economic philosophy, it is actually first and foremost a.) an attempt to prevent the build up of power in the hands of governments ( Hayek was writing in the long shadow cast by Nazism) and b.) a moral philosophy aimed at preserving individual liberty over societal income equality and collective rights or concerns. What is the moral ground that redistribution of wealth relies upon? This is a question that Milton Freidman posed and argued that no, there was no moral argument for taxation; this was taken to the extreme by American Philosopher Robert Nozick who believed all taxation is ‘theft’.
Despite being easily diagnosed or identified there is still much debate over what ‘Neo-liberalism’ is. Its advocates saw themselves as classical Liberals ( Conservatives) but it has now come to stand for a logic of limited government ( the privatising of public goods) and the supremacy of what Mark Fisher calls a ‘Business Ontology’ i.e. all institutions and government departments – even individuals- must be business like in outlook. I would argue that the most encompassing way to describe Neo-Liberalism though would be to borrow Paul Mason’s description of it ‘Capitalism as it exists today’: a short-hand for the integrated system based on the circulation of Capital, goods and people around the globe. Neo-Liberal Philosophy has captured a significant proportion of those on both the Liberal former Left and Liberal right. It is, in effect, the go-to problem solving device ( of course, inconsistently applied more on that later) of institutions such the E.U, the World Bank and successive Western Government of various countries.
Built on the foundations of Liberal thought from equality before the law & to the Philosophy of Rights- Neo-liberalism reimagined Liberalism for the 20th Century in the context of what it saw as naïve interventionist states. It seems to now be unravelling at the seams under the demons it let out, the vacuum it created by wiping out its resistance ( trade unions; minimum wage laws) by promoting the use of cheap foreign labour resulting in an anti-immigrant back-lash and its attempts to reconcile the short-circuit between economic freedom and leaders accountable to the democratic process. This is before it realises its tool-box is empty as Neo-liberalism is not the answer to a failure of Neo-liberalism itself ( see the predicament of Greek at the moment; poor and no way to pay off debt etc).
Neo-Liberalism’s first wave was as a means of interpreting the rise of authoritarianism in Europe; its second came as a way of resurrecting the power of class throughout the world2. Its most absurd moment was when the newly installed dictatorship of Chile was advised by the Liberal ‘Chicago School’ economists- therefore becoming complicit in the very thing it was supposed to prevent -dictatorships and suppression. Whatever it is, it has become a means of articulating what it is we live through presently in terms of social and economic relations; this age might be called the Neo-liberal age, roughly aligning with the designation of ‘Post-Modernity’ to describe Cultural production, which marks the break with moral certainty and collective anxiety over the benevolence of state actors. Right-wing historians of years to come may describe the move off the Gold Standard by the United States in 1971, through the rise of Regan and Thatcher, the fall of Communism, the expansion of global trade deals, de-industrialisation of the West, the rise of China as a world power, the continued expansion of the E.U and easy consumer credit as a bizarre blip toward increasing global co-operation and unity as the ‘Neo-Liberal’ age. This all began, however, coming to an end with the crash of 2008. The years between 2008 and 2016 seem to be the formation of a zombie ‘Liberalism’ – ignorant, blind or thought to be able to overcome the right-wing and left-wing insurrections bubbling away, tweeting and building echo chambers within the internet, ready to erupt at a myriad of problems the Liberal order is trying to cover up. Perhaps the better metaphor would be the crack in the dam slowly building, until finally, in 2016 the age of contemporary Liberalism collapses to the demons it let out in the first place- that it in turn could not restrain. This is a story about how Liberalism in the United Kingdom and The United States of America could not restrain these demons, and how it will require brilliant individuals and plain luck, a reinvigorated political Left movement being embraced by Liberals, or simply – the most likely, depressing case- unmitigated disaster by the authoritarians to let the demons back in. The most important quality that Liberalism lacks now is an idea how to make the world a better place for the citizens of The United Kingdom and The United States.
In the context of the United Kingdom to begin. Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn is elected ( and the following year) re-elected as leader of the Labour Party. Although throughout much of the 20th Century it was a ‘Socialist Democratic’ party, Labour had – and firmly does now- ascribe to basic tenants of Liberalism. The party had overcome its final objection to Liberalism with Tony Blair’s ‘courageous’ move in the name of ‘electability’ & his ideological commitment to the ‘Third Way’ to remove the part of the Labour Party Constitution which demanded the nationalisation of the ‘commanding heights’ of the Economy. This was a material effect of Neo-Liberal thinking: the Labour Party becoming politically a part of the political centre.
As pointed out – in what may seem a trite way to start- New Labour’s original appeal and ability to associate themselves with ‘aspiration’ was an electoral triumph in the late 1990’s. Brown and Blair apparently met in the ‘up-market’ but high street chain ‘Pizza Express’ in the late 1990’s to hatch political plans. Pizza Express as pointed out by Tom Whyman, perfectly captures the magic of what New Labour attempted to do:
‘…there was always something quite “Pizza Expressive” about the Blairite political project in general. Pizza Express is a chain fast food restaurant, but it is clearly a nice place: it thus acts, in the British cultural imagination, as a remedy to the crappiness of other, rival chains. For roughly the same price as, say, Pizza Hut, Pizza Express will serve you fresh, non-greasy, nutritious-seeming food in a clean, pleasant environment, surrounded by a tasteful array of Italianate art that seems like it’s been stolen from a two-star hotel somewhere in Tuscany. In doing so, Pizza Express makes a sort of middle-class pseudo-luxury available to all. This was precisely what Blairism always aimed at doing: what redistribution it attempted was all about exporting middle class aspirations and opportunities downwards (hence the focus on boosting university admission rates, etc.). In this way, Blairism aimed to offer people who would otherwise be merely existing in a crappy, provincial Britain something better. ”
This sense of ‘making things better’, or perhaps a desire to show that ‘things can only get better’ was a certain powerful message that emanated from Labour’s hierarchy. To understand the predicament and visionary banality of the Labour Right and Liberal centre, it is important to see just how this aspirational world-view has been watered down consistently and explicitly. Liberalism can no longer inspire: it is left to the idiots to make their countries ‘great again’.
For example, Whyman continues in his article to show a weird attachment to the famously tacky, kitsch and rather banal chain of restaurants called ‘McDonald’s’ favoured by the Labour right. The ‘favoured restaurant’ was barred from The Labour Party conference in 2016 on the perfectly reasonable grounds for a Socialist party aligned to the Labour movement that McDonald’s a.) doesn’t offer workplace Union recognition and b.) it doesn’t pay employees the Living Wage.
This prompted howls of outrage from the Labour right: ‘virtue signalling’3 was the term used by one Labour MP describing the decision to ban McDonald’s from having a stall at the Labour conference. There is something of my grander point wrapped up in this microcosm; the main thrust is that the Liberal order has no solution to the problems of the world it has created. The New Labour love- in for McDonald’s is particularly important as it holds a laughably large sign up that reads ‘ We have nothing to offer working people except to work in misery, or consume ordinary and unpleasant products, in banal environments’.
McDonald’s -in contrast to say Pizza Express- at least offered some hope of a better life; that McDonald’s – despite my often regular consumption in the place, through convenience and my desire for a drug like sugar/salt/ fat high- is simply not anything to ‘aspire’ towards in consuming.
The basic message is as follows: you, working people, must accept crappy reality as it exists. Know your place. Politicians will not try to change reality, we will not make anything better. We see you eating McDonald’s, working in McDonald’s, you love to suffer banality. We have no vision for a better Liberalism.
The middle-class that constitutes a significant proportion of Labour MPs now believes that things should remain miserable and empty for the working-class. They don’t understand the working class – It is a matter of convenience to lump together a third of the population and believe they ‘love’ McDonald’s. It explains Owen Smith’s bizarre rants against ‘frothy’ coffee. Everywhere sells Cappuccinos: from motor-way service stations to pubs. What is wrong with a coffee with a slightly superior coffee to regular ‘Americano’?
The British centre-left are bereft of ideas. It has no base or movement in the way Corbyn can inspire. It’s lack of ideas and even its rejection of ‘aspirational’ signifiers as shown here has not helped. The traditional base of the Labour party – industrial towns of the North of England- is slowly dissolving and morphing.
In the context of the United Kingdom and ‘Brexit’ ( the proto-Trump Political ‘Event’) we can see the former ‘working-class’ industrial towns of the north of England voting for the anti-establishment choice over the offer preferred by their Liberal Labour metropolitan counter-parts. The residents of Sunderland or other forgotten towns looked around and thought that ‘anything, nothing could be better than this’. When despair is all around, how can you bring yourself to vote for the status quo? A status quo that promises more of the same?
Jon Stewart makes an interesting point here that there is a whole generation of Right wing Liberals who have mistaken inaction and abdication of responsibility for Limited government. In America, the situation is where ‘rhetoric has never matched their action’.
The ‘illiberal’ elements of American Conservatism ( immigration restrictions and a desire to build a ‘big’ wall) as American seems to be ‘slipping away’, resulted in Conservative leadership being in a strange bind, caught between their fiscal right wing Liberalism and their authoritarian nationalistic conservatism: how can you ‘save’ the country as a politician, whilst not spending any of the country’s money?
But this could be said for the U.K too: a whole generation of politicians have mistaken inaction and disregard of consequence for the Right wing Liberal position of limited government. This blow-back of not being able to support the weakest and most economically side-lined communities around the U.K is one reason for a vote of ‘Brexit’. This is happening all over and is a real tension in Liberalism. It is exacerbated by the fact most Western countries are in a mountain of debt as a result of the banking crash of 2008: restricting Keynesian fiscal options. The banks can be bailed out it seems, but not the people or the communities. It is this froth of discontent that allows the Populist- of either Right or Left to turn that inarticulate anger in a political message, however distasteful. When the elites fail to respond to crises rationally or with any emotional undertaking, Populism is the result historically, and it unsurprisingly was again in 2016.
The great Anti-Liberal result of ‘Brexit’ was perhaps in many ways similar to the election of Donald Trump: many were keen to point out the ‘racial’ element of it- the British people wanted control of their borders, to keep immigrants out.
There is something similar about the Brexit referendum and the Presidential election it is that the opposing choice to the ‘Populist’ candidate was so miserable and indefensible. Like Clinton, the E.U is a horribly damaged brand. Unlike Clinton however, the E.U clearly serves some valuable goal and has a vision of a united Europe ( although this inability or reserve to articulate this often gains blow-back in the sense that there is a conspiracy of European elites aiming to unite Europe).
It was said afterwards we were entering a period of ‘post-truth’ politics with Michael Gove ( prominent ‘Leave’ campaigner) said that the people of the U.K were ‘sick and tired of experts’. This statement was much mocked, however in many ways it is completely true. Liberal experts have been fucking up for a long time without recompense.
Starting with the transition to Capitalism in Post-Communist Russia, the Oligarchy was enriched at the expense of the ordinary people’s suffering in the name of ‘market reform’; It was ‘experts’ who advocated austerity as the best possible solution to the economic crisis of the Great Recession based on historical analysis which turned out to be a mistake on a spreadsheet; it was experts who imposed Austerity on Greece leading to mass poverty and despair for the purposes of bailing out French and German banks; The financial crash of 2008 was in part due to terrible regulation by the experts; The financial crash of 2008 was never foreseen by any major economist, politician or central banker; the de-industrialisation of Britian and the despair it sewed in communities are the result of ‘business experts’; radical inequality exists as wage stagnation has hit the Western world. Experts ran the E.U too in the form of ‘technocrats’ and it was time the ‘expert class’ was perhaps paid back? More fundamentally, if these mistakes did not happen, would the well that certain populists dredge their bile from be so deep?
In a way I have very little sympathy for this technocratic impulse of the E.U. The Bologna reforms, as philosopher Slavoj Žižek points out, are about ‘creating experts’. In the name of competitivity, academic knowledge and human intelligence is made subservient to the demands of power; human discovery is turned into a commodity to serve the interests of the ruling class.
The rejection of ‘experts’ however and Liberal cultures of the cities found its most shocking expression so far in the re-emergence of Fascism in the United States.
Why did Donald Trump rise to the most powerful job in the world? There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Trump supporters are in essence not economically marginalised but rather their dislike of people of colour and immigrants – a fear of ‘The Other’– led them to vote Trump. There is clearly a large degree of truth in the analysis that Trump’s victory was a ‘white-lash‘. The data brings this to light. It is also true that a large degree of poor black and minority voters simply did not turn out for Hilary Clinton as they did for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012- could it be because Hilary Clinton was perceived to be too close to the neo-liberal centre of power that has downtrodden them for so long?
There are two media ‘narratives’ of the rise of Trump: one, the normalisation of Trump building from a ‘class’ based approach saying his support is based on economic suffering and the rise of a Globalist backlash, the other being a ‘race’ based ‘white-lash’ of middle-income Americans against a radically -and racially-changing country.
For example, it is true that the vast majority of White Americans supported Trump- but not the poorest. The lowest income white demographics supported Clinton. It could easily be interpreted that economics is not the biggest issue but race, therefore.
Is this ‘soft’ racism- that the American people were simply ‘anxious’ about the economy and perhaps felt that minorities were getting better treatment with say affirmative action programmes or government backed handouts? Or was this the bubbling to the surface of a Neo-Fascism: built from conspiracy fringes of the internet and Breitbart news based on an out-right hatred of the ‘other’? ‘Make American Great Again‘ is both the idea that the country that was once ‘great’ has become ‘soft’ due to the Liberal consensus allowing it to be ‘cucked‘; even the ‘softer’ version is not pleasant to Liberal ears: this is that the country is simply changing too fast for its white population. And how? Through the influx of foreigners. America’s population is now standing at 40 million foreign-born. Neither are palatable to the subject who has taken on anti-racist norms of the metropolitan – Liberal– city.
The exiting polling by The New York Times suggested that for the many of Trump’s supporters it was a dislike of Hilary that was the main reason for their vote rather than an affirmative nod of approval to ‘The Donald‘. It is interesting to see comment such as this by Sam Kriss which points out:
”If only one party had nominated someone massively compromised by their personal history, unpopular with the base, and despised by the electorate, you could say that the system is flawed. For them to both do this is a sign that it’s working precisely as intended. Remember that in Athenian democracy, if you ever cast a ballot for a single named individual, it was an ostrakon: you were voting for them to be exiled from the city for ten years. Something about the form persists. You might vote for the lesser evil, but it’s always only a lesser evil, someone you don’t actually like. As with the democracy of ostracism, voting is a ritual to put an end to the same outrages that fuel it. ” 4
Donald Trump is a Fascist. Nobody understands – just like Liberalism- what exactly Fascism is, but Trump’s politics mirror the Nationalist Socialism that a certain German dictator of the ’30’s espoused. It is all too easy to confuse and conflate outright racism with Fascism ( the EDL in the U.K are often described as Fascist but they are not- they are just racists).
To be a Fascist requires a degree of sophistication lacking in this contemporary racist discourse. I say, sophistication, but perhaps scare-quotes would be appropriate around ‘sophistication’. Fascism simply does not just require racism- the unleashing of racial vengeance and the deportation or rounding up of minorities – alongside an ultra-nationalistic outlook about ‘restoring’ a country to former greatness. It also requires a state willing to help the poorest, to laud the ‘workers’, to form an obscene pact between big business, the working-class and the often marginalised middle-classes. Nazi support was strongest in rural areas; likewise from exit polling, Trump’s supporters are too. But none of this alone means Fascism per se.
Hitler was first and foremost – which is often forgotten- an artist. It is often said he is a failed artist because he never was accepted into art school but this would mean Van Gogh was also a ‘failed artist’. Hitler had a whole theory of aesthetics; Trump does too. He has an idea of what is ‘beautiful’. For him it is an enormous wall paid for by Mexico. His aesthetics mirrors that of the 1970’s conceptual artist Piero Manzoni who canned his own shit, and then signed the tin. What else is Trump Tower, or any other Trump product for that matter, than Trump signing his own shit? For Trump this is clearly not an artistic venture, but it is certainly an aesthetic one. Trump lives in a gold-plated apartment and flies in a gold plated jet. The aesthetics of Trump is not a minor triviality, but key to his cult of personality: the idea is to signify importance, taste and wealth.
The missing ingredient of Trump’s Fascism is his aesethicization of the Military. He has so far only made jarring and insulting comments about soldiers captured during war ( John McCain) and dead soldier’s families- but this will surely change. As Commander-in-Chief, when his economic policies tank America, a war – a go-to by failing right-wing leaders the world over from Thatcher to Putin- is inevitable. The full spectrum of a Fascist leader in American will be realised in the coming years. America, with its system of check and balances, may stop short of becoming a totalitarian state, but its leader and his executive decrees that are enacted will be Fascist at the very least.
The ‘temptations’ of Populism is a virus that spreads and mutates throughout certain situations and contexts. Fascism is one such manifestation of this authoritarian temptation. Fascism holds that it stands up for the working people of a nation state against the corrupted ‘metropolitan’ elites made up of Gays, Jews and Communists.
This dichotomy of the ‘people’ and the ‘elite’ is something that Fascists exploit. But it is not just Fascists- Socialists do this too. The philosopher Walter Benjamin noted that ‘every Fascism is a sign of a failed revolution’. What does this mean? It means the seeds are there for populist politicians to exploit.
Hilary Clinton was not just simply unlikable but truly compromised by being an embodiment of the Liberal consensus. It is a poor choice when it is ‘death by firing squad or death by drowning’ as even the seemingly political neutral science journal New Scientist put it – and remember this is before you factor into the scenario that Trump is a climate change denier.
As Slavoj Žižek points out, Trump makes a rare truthful statement when he says Bernie Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton was like ‘Occupy Wall Street endorsing Goldman Sachs‘.
This is the go between position between the Trump vote being a racist backlash and a signifier of economic failure. One of the truths of Fascism, is that when the economy turns, the people turn on poor people and immigrants. This is something shared by many contemporary Anti-Liberal sentiments, that it is the ‘people’ against the ‘elites’. Clinton embodies the elite. Maybe this is why so many voted due to a dislike for Clinton, rather than belief in the character, talents or policies of Donald Trump. It also explains why so many who would often vote Democrat simply stated home rather than vote Hilary– or even vote for a third party outsider.
But it is not just the problem that she embodies the elite; Clinton – like so many politicians of the Liberal Democratic world – is not averse to allowing money to dictate the terms of play. The Podesta email dump exposed by Wikileaks is case in point.
Clinton’s long talked about speeches to Wall Street companies that brought in vast riches for the Clinton’s- their personal wealth is around $150 million- is just one issue here that can be put aside for one moment. The more alarming issue: The Clinton Foundation takes payment from everyone from UBS or Dow Chemical, and in a completely non-surprising twist, and it turns out that these payments were sold by Clinton’s middle men as a way of ‘bolstering influence’. It was also more corrupt than that: the wikileaks emails exposed a mini ‘cash for access’ scandal. Dow Chemical received special access to Secretary Clinton as a Clinton Foundation donor whilst embroiled in a saga with another Clinton Foundation donor, Kuwait, over an oil pipeline- a pipeline that would have netted Dow $9 Billion.
Clinton was the definition of both the establishment ( Bill had famously in the election campaign said it was ‘her turn’- an unfortunate phrase which is clearly not how democracy should work. It is never anybody’s ‘turn’ in a democracy to rule; Liberalism is many things but it is not monarchy) as well as repeatedly being a magnet to scandal. She was politically damaged goods. A vote for Clinton was a vote for the status quo that was not working- either economically nor morally it seems.
A sense in which the economy is ‘rigged’ is a statement that drove the most important T.V to come out of American in the last two decades- The Wire. Its creator David Simon tapped into a sentiment that the Liberalism enacted in America is just not working for the poorest Americans. Interestingly, the exit polling from the elections of 2016 suggest that Trump supporters were not generally the poorest in society, but rather were drawn from the middle-class more often than not. This is also borne out by the polling of Trump supporters in his primary campaign for President: Trump supporters, by and large, were not the poorest of the poor but rather sitting comfortably in what may be termed ‘the middle class’.
It is also interesting to note that although these are not the poorest of the poor, similar sentiments abound in the common Trump supporters mind: 79% believed the nation’s economy was in a ‘poor’ state compared to the 15% of Clinton supporters who thought it was in a poor state. 65% of those who responded to the question ‘trade takes away American jobs’ in the affirmative were Trump supporters compared to 31% Clinton supports who felt the same.
Economic anxiety and a loss of pride in the American capacity to rule the world in manufacturing and associated ‘decline’ seems to have taken a deep root in the Trump supporter’s brain. Hope here is hopeless.
Employment statistics perhaps don’t truly capture the effect of despair caused when a mass employer in town closes down. People may be in work, but that work in the supermarket – the ‘Walmart’ economy- is not as ‘high status’ as previous manufacturing jobs, where whole communities in the Western world were tied together as workers in a common cause.
Liberalism is run out of ideas. The Western world seems to be entering a stage of ‘Secular stagnation’ as many economists have pointed out – and the political Liberal class have no idea how to negate it. Neo-liberalism has barred many policies that would have benefited the poorest in society from taking place in civilised debate. Instead people in nowhere towns in industrial buffers looked around and have decided anything is better than this. The American – and now British Left- has become saturated in identity politics. A candidate such as Bernie Sanders in American and perhaps someone with more of a connection to the working-classes than Jeremy Corbyn ( but only time will tell) could have radicalised Liberalism from the Left. The necessity now is to combine the ‘identity politics’ favoured – mostly- by the educated with the anti-establishment and visceral power and vision of a more orthodox political Left. This means being critical of safe spaces and trigger warnings: ugliness must be confronted and darkness must be looked in the eye.
The Liberal Right are bereft of ideas and have become so compromised by money and power it is no longer viable to believe a return to this jaded model of the status quo is possible. Nationalism – the great force that emerges and divides, or emerges and brings together- has returned. It was harboured by Trump for the forces of Fascism; it was harboured by the SNP and the ‘Yes’ campaign in Scotland for the forces of equality. If Nationalism can either be checked or embraced properly, a connection with ‘disenfranchised’ masses is possible. ‘Bernie Bros’ are not to be laughed at- they may be the only possible way out of the malaise. 2016 may turn out to be a blip, as the forces of resistance to a fragile impossible coalition of ‘deplorables’, Nationalists, Conservatives, rich, poor, racists, the concerned, bored, tired or drained, may prove to strong. 2016 may be a sign of the opposite – a sign of a greater, more profound and darker turn in world history; far from history ending in the early 1990’s, it merely signalled the beginning of the end. The tragedy of poverty for those on the Left is that is does not necessarily produce virtuous subjects; the horror of poverty is that it can turn dark the souls of those who suffer through. From this point in the ’90’s, Neo-Liberalism without any check or balances has reshaped the world in its image- and it is ugly. Liberalism will only survive if it understands the power of the radical Left to be an alternative to the sewage of the status quo. This means disregarding Neo-Liberalism and taking on authoritarianism wherever possible. Neo-Liberalism is now dead; the alternatives are there to be co-operated with if the Liberal mainstream can bring itself to act rationally for the first time in a long time.
1 No- Einstein did not ‘disprove’ Newton’s Laws of Motion, rather he realised that they described reality, they were simply an incomplete description of reality.
2http://anintegralstate.net/2014/09/13/david-harveys-theorisation-neoliberalism/ accessed on 11/11/2016