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writing for godot

“Shithole Election 2020”: Choosing the Lesser Tyranny

Written by Patrick Walker   
Tuesday, 08 September 2020 04:35

Shithole Election 2020: It's Fascism or Extortion!

The Best-Laid Plans of Mice–and Strategy Writers

Ah, the best-laid plans of mice and men!

Like my previous article, this one will depart a bit from my original plans. Less drastically, however, since I still intend, as planned, to discuss the rhetoric of a truth-telling satyagraha "movement of movements" supporting a peaceful Green New Deal (GND). One designed to place relentless pressure on Joe Biden. (Assuming, of course, that we’re lucky enough to elect Biden rather than Trump, who’ll brutally repress all movement dissent.)

Deviating from my original writing plan, I’ll focus here exclusively on movement rhetoric. I’ll again defer discussing the risk movement members will take in uniting their individual aims under the big “umbrella” of a peaceful GND. Here again, my original plan was disrupted by important recent political reading–this time a piece by Rich Moser, a fellow political strategy blogger whose views I respect.

In his article. Moser makes an interesting parallel between our times and the abolitionist era, surmising that our times offer a political opportunity for a third party quite rare in U.S. history. I actually agree with Moser’s third-party thesis, only to add that that opportunity–in direct terms–is decidedly not this election. Even as powerful a moral voice against our toxic duopoly as Chris Hedges has openly admitted that Trump is more dangerous than Biden. Much as I admire Hedges as “America’s conscience,” I find his People’s Convention speech self-contradictory–and the quintessence of bad strategy.

Pace Hedges, I find voting for the Green Party in swing states dangerously stupid and strategically self-defeating for Greens and Green supporters–among which I ardently count myself. (The Green Party deserves full credit for developing and promoting the GND–arguably humanity’s only current salvation.)

But helping elect Trump–the GND’s (and humanity’s) worst imaginable enemy–will only aid the Democrat establishment’s turbocharged propaganda machine in smearing the Green Party and making it even less electable. To say nothing of making peaceful street revolt in favor of the GND–under Trump’s brutal fascist repression–an act of martyrdom. Hedges rightly admires martyrdom, and clearly possesses the moral courage to risk it himself. But to require it from potential movement activists is frankly unnecessary, stupid, and sure to steeply reduce your movement numbers.

I’m quite proud to have coined the best slogan explaining why we leftists must vote for Biden: “Make America Safe for Revolt.” Especially since that revolt can clearly be framed in terms of a reality deeply favorable to Greens–Democrats’ electoral extortion–this “shithole election” makes more obvious to voters than ever. (More soon on the potent rhetoric of “this shithole election.”)

Pick Your Poison: Propaganda War or Civil War

Readers will inevitably note a strong slant toward movement rhetoric here and in most of my other writings. While I’m admittedly personally attracted to rhetoric (my savvy college rhetoric prof thought I could make a fortunate in advertising), my emphasis on movement rhetoric is based not on personal talents but on political analysis. Lovers of the common good are fighting a desperate propaganda war. A war in which we’re overwhelmingly outgunned in budget and media access terms; and, even worse, a propaganda war our earnest–and naive–political movements share the catastrophic disadvantage of not even knowing they’re fighting.

If I offer anything of value (besides clever, well-thought-out rhetoric), it’s the synthesis of connecting America’s most valuable, public-interested political movements with the thinking of America’s best leftist political analysts. Above all, with the brilliant, indispensable propaganda model of U.S. political discourse developed by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman.

Now, one key feature of the propaganda model is the role mainstream media–like our politicians themselves–play in defining what’s permissible for public discussion. The issues our major media and national politicians stress are the issues our governing elites want U.S. citizens to take seriously. Of course, the more greedy, corrupt, out of touch, and callous those elites become, the less the issues they want taken seriously will have anything to do with the well-being of most citizens. Or even with the distressing needs related to simple survival. Or even with the distressing needs related to everyone’s survival. Our governing elites criminal neglect of humanity’s climate emergency– outrageously enabled by media’s own criminal neglect of that life-or-death issue–best illustrates this last point.

When a string of presidential debates can pass without a single question about climate change, or when billionaires can get vastly richer amidst record (pandemic-related) unemployment, the misrule of our governing elites has become a civilization-threatening tyranny. Here, the thought of eighteenth-century philosopher David Hume, who first studied the problem of how the few can govern the many, screams for our attention.

Hume recognized that as people’s thinking becomes more democratic, governing by physical force becomes more and more illegitimate. So, savvy modern rulers govern primarily by the force of public opinion; be their governance good or bad, they gain consent to it in people’s minds. By this insight, Hume paved the way for our modern understanding of propaganda; it’s an unspoken tribute to Hume that Chomsky and Herman’s groundbreaking book on U.S. media’s propaganda role is titled Manufacturing Consent.

Prescient as he was, Hume lived before the age of modern mass communications; that caused him to miss a crucial nuance. That nuance is modern fascism, where, instead of largely replacing physical force as the main tool of governance, the governing few recruit large sectors of public opinion to favor using physical force. Not against those sectors themselves of course (at least not initially), but against foreign and domestic enemies the ruling propagandists have successfully scapegoated.

Whether Trump is a full-blown fascist is an open question (I’m ever more inclined to say yes), but his rhetoric and means of holding power seem ever more taken from the fascist playbook. And by fostering racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and outrageous political stereotyping (Joe Biden a raving socialist???!!!), as well as a false religion of gun ownership, Republicans have for decades been forging Trump an army of model fascist citizens. All that was lacking was the right personality-cult demagogue.

So U.S. citizens–above all, movement activists–should be aware: the only possible outcome of the upcoming “shithole election” is tyranny by callous, dangerous elites. But it remains for us to decide whether those elites rule primarily by propaganda, or increasingly by the fascist jackboot. For lovers of the common good, it’s either propaganda war or civil war–an admittedly ugly dilemma that nonetheless screams for electing Biden.

Condensing Revolution to a Few Tasty Sound Bites

When all voting roads in an election lead to tyranny by elites, the situation obviously calls for revolution. With his longstanding talk of “political revolution,” Bernie Sanders has clearly acknowledged that. Moreover, his insistence that it be a political revolution has helped to promote the valuable idea that–unless we wish to risk massive bloodshed–our revolution against the tyrannical elites needs to be peaceful.

Because most Americans unfortunately associate the term political with elections and voting rather than policy, Sanders’ rhetoric regrettably misleads citizens into thinking campaigning and voting are the be-all-and-end-all of politics. Whatever Sanders’ intentions, that denigrates the crucial role of street political movements in dysfunctional systems dominated by elites who aren’t listening, and who’ve rigged the election process into a tyranny of elites. Elites who guarantee, in short, that the only electable candidates are those who serve their interests. Ironically, it also ignores the indispensable role the Occupy Wall Street movement played in making Sanders himself a viable presidential candidate. Until, of course, our elites knifed him.

That a literal street movement (Occupy Wall Street) made Sanders’ wide popularity possible–and that our tyrannical elites were still able to knife him–suggests two crucial lessons. Namely, that 1) grassroots movements are capable of incredible force in swaying public opinion and 2) our grassroots movements still have a long way to go.

Unfortunately, with the overlapping crises of a climate emergency, a Covid-19 pandemic, the catastrophic economic consequences of that pandemic, and a genuine threat of fascist rule “on these shores,” we have precious little time for our street movements to “elevate their game.” Our grassroots movements must rapidly learn from Occupy and better it–and I’m the only strategy writer I know of with a comprehensive plan to do so in the face of our disgusting “shithouse election.”

Now, Occupy’s diffuse and hard-to-identify planners may or may not have understood the grim rhetorical necessities of fighting a propaganda war against media-dominating, hyper-wealthy elites, but they instinctively got certainly things perfectly right. They grasped the urgency of planning disruptive street actions that the elites, their media, and the general public couldn’t possibly ignore.

And they likewise grasped the urgency of exploiting their brief, forced moment in the spotlight to broadcast concisely packaged rhetoric about the ugly realities of U.S. society and politics. As examples, I’ll cite their terse enemy identifications in the name Occupy Wall Street, in their inescapable meme “the 99% vs. the 1%,” and in their brilliant street chant “Banks got bailed out/ We got sold out.” Radically outgunned in the propaganda war, grassroots movements must make their rhetoric as brief and hard-hitting as possible. Whatever movement we organize to pressure Biden must learn this crucial lesson from Occupy, and my own suggestions here result from absorbing that lesson with the utmost attentiveness. We must condense our revolution to a few tasty sound bites.

Some Potential Movement Sound Bites

Here, to close, are a few brief but potent suggestions:

Enemy definition. The Occupy movement already gave us a brilliant start by fingering its enemy as “Wall Street. Rather than “reinvent the wheel,” we do best to expand on Occupy’s enemy definition in an insightful, memorable way. If “Wall Street” refers to financial and corporate interests generally (and individual plutocrats who gain from them), it’s spot on in identifying some of our government’s puppet masters but also incomplete. But we capture them memorably–and almost completely–if we expand Occupy’s phrase to “Wall Street and War Street.” By “War Street,” I mean the military-industrial-surveillance complex, and also the Israel lobby. With “Wall Street and War Street,” we’ve fingered the two overlapping sets of tyrants who dominate U.S. politics and radically corrupt policy for their selfish ends. Plus–if we wish to castigate both our Wall Street and War Street tyrants and their servile political lackeys–a brilliant chant becomes readily available. Namely, “Wall Street, War Street/ Must you grovel at their feet?”

Framing this election. Norman Solomon of RootsAction gave us the brilliant slogan “Reject and elect Biden”— a sweet piece of progressive movement rhetoric I wholeheartedly commend. But Solomon, like RootsAction itself, seems laser-focused on the admittedly crucial task of defeating Trump; he offers no advice whatsoever on how we accomplish the staggeringly difficult paradox of “rejecting and electing Biden”–electing him in a way that makes him feel rejected and under our constant distrust and scrutiny. What strikes me is that we must begin long before his victory, let alone his inauguration. One way I’ve already suggested is referring to Biden as “the lesser of two enemies.” But probably a more potent way is based on another paradox: rejecting the election itself while participating in it. That’s exactly what I was getting at in referring to this as the “shithole election”; by his vulgar, racist reference to “shithole countries,” Trump has gifted activists with a weapon that can be turned against himself–and Biden too. What’s more of a shithole election than one where the only possible result is continued tyranny by Wall Street and War Street? Or where the only conceivable good to be achieved–though still a crucial one–is to elect a non-fascist form of that tyranny?

Voting machine as toilet: Fascism and Extortion levers. This really continues the “Framing this election” subhead, but I didn’t want to make it too long. If I were as lucky as Chris Hedges in having cartoonist Mr. Fish to illustrate his articles, I’d use what I’ll draw here in words–potentially an Election Day protest T-shirt–as banner sketch for this piece. Anyway, what I have in mind as my “voting machine” (inside a curtained booth) is a toilet with two levers (or handles) on opposite sides, one labeled “Fascism (Trump)” and the other “Extortion (Biden).” Perhaps, to make the picture more realistic, we should attach two more handles, one on each side, each attached by a chain to the handle above it. The handle below the Fascism handle would be labeled “Green Party” and one below the Extortion handle “Libertarian Party.” Leaning over the “voting booth” is a large, grinning two-headed monster, with one head labeled “Wall Street” and the other “War Street.” Needless to say, the monster is grinning because he knows that whichever of the four handles is pulled, it’s he, the two-headed monster, who gets the vote. Democrats, needless to say, extort our vote for this monster in his non-fascist, less bloodthirsty frame of mind. As a cartoon or T-shirt, the whole picture would be captioned “Our Shithole Election”–because that’s what an election where all votes go to Wall Street and War Street essentially is.

In my next piece, I’ll elaborate on on our “movement of movements” rhetoric, discussing the advantages for the Green Party in hammering the mantra of Democrat extortion. I’ll also discuss the thorny question of how a movement associated with Gandhi’s satyagraha can condone–if not use–the vulgar talk of a “shithole election.” your social media marketing partner
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